New Defense Bill Strengthens the Military’s Flood & Energy Readiness and Saves Taxpayer Dollars—All While Addressing Climate Change

, Climate Resilience Analyst | August 7, 2018, 10:00 am EDT
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H.R. 5515, the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019 This week President Trump is expected to sign into law H.R. 5515, the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019.

[UPDATE Mon. August 13, 2018, 4:44pm: This post has been updated to reflect that today, President Trump signed the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).]

[UPDATE Wed. August 8, 2018, 6:10pm: This post has been updated to reflect that President Trump is expected to sign the bill on Monday, and to address the energy resilience portion of the NDAA] 

Today, President Trump signed into law H.R. 5515, the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019.

The NDAA FY 2019 builds to the future and reflects the reality of climate change and therefore provides a useful roadmap for Congress as they consider different proposals to help the nation prepare for future environmental conditions, including climate change. The Armed Services Committee deserves recognition for their leadership in ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely by requiring important energy and climate resiliency measures. Here’s what it does:

  • On energy resilience: the NDAA FY 19 requires that all military installations include energy and climate resiliency efforts in their master plans to ensure the anticipation of, the preparation for, and the adaptation to utility disruptions. Storms and tidal flooding are disruptive and devastating; however, if there’s a power outage and the lights go out because the utility is underwater or it’s withstood severe wind damage, the loss of power can have consequences for maintaining mission-critical operations. It also requires that energy studies or life cycle analysis be conducted on all new construction projects, to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
  • On climate resilience: the NDAA FY 19 requires the disclosure of flood risk of new construction and prohibits new military projects from being developed in the riskiest floodplain areas (the “100-year” floodplain).  If these areas can’t be avoided, the installation must provide a mitigation plan, must build the project above the height of a base flood, and must conduct a flood vulnerability assessment of the new project. It also gives the Secretary of Defense the flexibility to utilize funds to repair and mitigate the risk to highways if access to the military installation has been impacted by past recurrent flood events and fluctuations in sea levels.

While the Department of Defense and military branches such as the Navy, have good track records on assessing and acting on climate security, the NDAA FY19 helps to fortify the existing tools and resources to help inform the planning and mitigation measures that are authorized in this bill and that we know are so badly needed.

  • Thanks to appropriations legislation in 2016 authorizing the Department of Defense to conduct a vulnerability study of military installations to climate and extreme weather events, we know that climate and energy resilience planning and measures are truly needed (See DOD’s 2018 report: “Climate-Related Risk to DoD Infrastructure Initial Vulnerability Assessment Survey (SLVAS)”.
  • While the Vulnerability Assessment Survey doesn’t directly speak to sea level rise, military installations can use the Department of Defense’s online database and tool to plan for different sea level rise scenarios and timeframes based on each planners’ risk tolerance.
  • Whether it’s extreme weather events or tidal flooding due to sea level rise, the installation planners have as a resource the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) climate adaptation planning handbook and tools (Appendix F and Appendix G) to assist them with implementing viable strategies to address climate change impacts.

The NDAA for FY 2019 provides support for the Department of Defense to continue these types of climate-ready activities while also representing a good step in the right direction by Congress on climate preparedness.

Energy and Climate Resiliency

The previous NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018 required the Pentagon to do a report on how military installations and overseas staff may be vulnerable to climate change over the next 20 years. The language in that bill (see Section 335Report on effects of climate change on Department of Defense) recognized that climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the U.S. and “is impacting stability in areas of the world both where the United States Armed Forces are operating today, and where strategic implications for future conflict exist.”

The energy and climate Resiliency language in the NDAA FY 2019 (see Section 2805) is a smart next step by requiring the Defense Department to direct the different branches to implement multiple planning measures and standards to increase climate and energy resiliency on military installations.  Energy and climate resiliency is defined as the:

anticipation, preparation for, and adaptation to utility disruptions and changing environmental conditions and the ability to withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from utility disruptions while ensuring the sustainment of mission-critical operations.’’

 

Energy Resiliency:  More than Keeping the Lights On, It’s About Mission Readiness

The NDAA FY 19 requires that all military installations include energy and climate resiliency efforts in their master plans to ensure the anticipation of, the preparation for, and the adaptation to utility disruptions. Storms and tidal flooding are disruptive and devastating in their own right, however if there’s a power outage and the lights go out because the utility is underwater or it’s withstood severe wind damage, the loss of power can have consequences to maintaining mission-critical operations. For example, UCS’s “Lights Out? Storm Surge, Blackouts, and How Clean Energy Can Help” report included an analysis of the Hampton Roads, VA area and found that four power plants and 57 out of 132 major substations are at risk of flooding today, including 15 of the 18 major substations in Norfolk and nine of the 11 major substations in Hampton Roads. Given that every branch of the armed services is represented in Hampton Roads, it truly is the epicenter for military activity on the east coast and underscores the importance of why energy resilience must be addressed in master plans for each military installation.

Climate Resiliency:  Ensuring New Construction is Flood-Ready

The NDAA FY 2019 (Section 2805) requires the Defense Department to direct the different military branches to implement flood standards to help avoid building in the floodplain if possible and if that isn’t possible, to ensure that new projects are more resilient to future floods.

The language in section 2805 requires smart, flood-ready resilient measures including:

  • disclosure of whether a proposed project will be sited within or partially within a 100-year floodplain;
  • a specific risk mitigation plan if the project is sited within or partially within a 100-year floodplain;

The bill also requires the Secretary of the Department of Defense to submit a report to the Congressional Defense Committee on proposed projects that are to be sited partially or within the 100-year floodplain.  Included in this report must be:

  • An assessment of flood vulnerability for the proposed project;
  • Information on alternative construction sites considered and an explanation as to why those sites do not satisfy mission requirements; and
  • A description of planned flood mitigation measures.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it also sets minimum base flood elevation requirements for new construction in the 100-year floodplain. Base flood elevation is the height flood water is expected to rise during a base flood. For non-mission-critical buildings and facilities, the structure must be built 2 feet above the base flood elevation (BFE) and for mission-critical buildings, 3-feet above BFE.

At least 600 communities  ranging from big cities, mid-size like Hampton Roads, VA as well as small towns are already implementing these commonsense flood-ready standards.  These base flood elevation standards ensure that structures are built from 1 to 3 feet (“freeboard”) above the “100-year flood” level.

Section 2865 of the NDAA FY19 is also another critical piece to advancing preparedness on military installations. It gives the Secretary of Defense the flexibility to utilize funds to repair and mitigate the risk to highways if the access to the military installation has been impacted by past recurrent flood events and fluctuations in sea levels.

Why Make New Construction Flood-Ready? Connecting the dots…

#1  Climate Change: Climate Change is driving rising seas & more extreme precipitation

This commonsense standard will help to protect defense facilities but will also save taxpayers money by ensuring the newly built structures can withstand rising seas and riverine flooding, both of which are becoming more frequent and costly.

US Naval Station Norfolk

Rising Seas: The military is at the frontlines of sea level rise given its large coastal presence, its interconnectedness with the surround

ing communities and its important role in maintaining our national security. With higher water, high tides will reach further inland, tidal flooding will become more frequent and extensive, and storms will have more water to drive ashore.

In Hampton Roads, VA for example, installations will be challenged with getting military personnel to their bases when the roads are inundated or to service ships at Naval Station Norfolk, the largest in the world. If the electricity at the piers must be turned off due to extra high tides this will impact deployment and operations.

North Carolina Army National Guardsmen and local emergency services assist with evacuation efforts in Fayetteville, N.C., Oct. 08, 2016. Heavy rains caused by Hurricane Matthew led to flooding as high as five feet in some areas.

Extreme Precipitation:  UCS’s fact sheet “Climate Change, Extreme Precipitation and Flooding: The Latest Science” summarizes how global warming is shifting rainfall patterns, making heavy rain more frequent in many regions.  This extreme rainfall, along with human alteration of the land and development in floodplains is placing more and more places at risk of destructive and costly floods.   We know that climate change is worsening extreme weather events, making them more extreme and frequent as we’re seeing with extreme rainfall events.

#2: Dollars & Sense:  

Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report

Investing now, means savings down the road

Dollars: As downpours become more frequent and intense and as seas are rising, we’re seeing a toll on our nation’s coffers. Last January just after NOAA found that 2017 was the costliest year on record for weather and climate disasters.

Underwater, UCS’s recent analysis of properties at risk of chronic inundation due to sea level rise indicates that within a lifetime of a mortgage 300,000 homes worth $17.5 billion while 14,000 commercial properties worth $18.5 billion are at risk of this type of tidal flooding.  By the end of the century, these numbers grow to a collective 2.5 million homes and businesses worth a $1 trillion. These numbers do not capture the value of coastal military installations nor other infrastructure such as roads, bridges, urban drainage or water or energy utilities, and therefore provide a glimpse of the value of what’s at stake. While inland flooding and storms will only exacerbate this risk and the costs of future impacts.

Sense: While cost assessment of natural disasters for just the last year alone is daunting, we can be smarter about how we spend federal taxpayer dollars while also increasing the nation’s resilience. An assessment of federal investments to reduce the risk of multiple natural hazards made just this case.  The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) issued Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report which found that every $1 invested in disaster mitigation saves taxpayers $6.  The findings show even better numbers for riverine flooding.  Investing in preventive measures like the Department of Defense’s flood standard, there’s a $7 benefit for every dollar invested.  NIBS also found that the Gulf Coast and other regions in the United States benefit even more from these standards that ensure building above the legally mandated height.

Time to Keep Up the Momentum on Energy and Climate Resilience

The NDAA FY 2019 moves the needle on flood and climate readiness in many ways.  It reflects the reality of climate change and the real challenges we face as a nation, particularly when it comes to the impacts climate change and more severe weather events will have on our electric grid system, on our road systems, and on future military construction.  It particularly emphasizes policies to address tidal flooding due to sea level rise, which couldn’t be more important given the heavy presence of the military on our coastlines.  It also recognizes the importance of informing policies and plans based on the most recent science.  Finally, it provides a solid example of the policies around planning and mitigating these risks. For energy resilience, this means planning for power outages and conducting an energy study or life cycle analysis for new military projects.  For climate resilience and flood readiness this means: 1) disclosing flood risk; 2) avoiding placing new development in risky floodplains; and 3) implementing mitigation measures to reduce flood risk.

The NDAA FY 2019 provides a valuable and badly needed example of bicameral, bipartisan leadership on energy and climate resilience and by doing so, on how we can use federal taxpayer dollars wisely.  Hopefully, Congress will continue to move the needle on flood and climate readiness to ensure our communities and military are more resilient to extreme weather events and climate change.

Photo: Ian Swoveland
North Carolina National Guard

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  • Megan Jones

    To be prevented from flood, keep on hand some high quality tarps

    • that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely by requiring important energy and climate resiliency measures. Here’s what it does: