At HASC Hearing, Congresswoman Elaine Luria Discusses Impacts of Climate Change on Military Readiness

March 15, 2019
Press Release
Luria’s Committee Remarks Highlight Effects of Sea Level Rise and Flooding on Military Installations in Hampton Roads Area – “Such a Critical Issue to Our Region”

WASHINGTON – This week, members of the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the impacts of climate change on military installations and operational readiness.

The hearing, titled “Ensuring Resiliency of Military Installations and Operations in Response to Climate Change,” convened expert witnesses to provide testimony on the immediate and long-term effects climate change will have on the military.

U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (VA-02), a 20-year Navy veteran and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, made the following statement at the hearing. (Click HERE for video.)

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for letting me participate in this hearing, as I'm not normally on the Readiness Subcommittee, but I am on [the] Seapower [and Projection Forces Subcommittee], and I do represent the Hampton Roads region.

And so I'll just quote from the recent report that was required by the 2018 NDAA and was delivered in January 2019: “Navy Region Mid-Atlantic and the greater Hampton Roads area is one of the most vulnerable to flooding military operational installations in the United States. Sea level rise, land subsidence, and changing ocean currents have resulted in more frequent nuisance flooding and increased vulnerability to coastal storms. As a result, and to better mitigate these issues, the region has engaged in several initiatives and partnerships to address the associated challenges.”

So, I will state that at our local level between federal, state, and local government, there is a lot of coordination, there is a lot of communication, and we are working to establish a center of excellence for sea level rise and recurrent flooding through our local universities, and local and state research activities.

Yet the main problem that we see is there really are not any resources currently allocated behind fixing these problems. And in the preparatory documents for today's hearing, when speaking of this same study, it says that it did not meet the congressional reporting requirements to describe future focused mitigations that would be required to ensure the resiliency that we're looking for.

And reading through your testimony ahead of time, there were a couple of things that were mentioned. So Admiral Titley, you mentioned that simply "walling off or protecting only the physical base will not be effective."

I'd like to comment in response to that, that throughout the local area and the three joint land-use studies that are underway within the Hampton Roads area – the Norfolk one having recently been completed, Virginia Beach in progress but about to be released, and then one on the Peninsula for Hampton – what I found with my coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers is that we are actually doing the opposite of that. We're not walling off the bases and only studying them; the joint land-use studies within the community are not including federal property.

So it is quite a conundrum when the water doesn't care about city or municipal boundaries when our process doesn't allow us to take into account the federal property and the impacts on that and we're only looking at it from the city level.

So Admiral Titley, you mentioned a risk-management approach, and I think that a thorough risk- management approach and something similar to your climate-impacts handbook that would lay out the impacts and the costs to our military readiness and the costs to upgrade these facilities is really a critical thing that we need for decision-making in the future.

And you also said that each service should determine its top one or two. Well, we have eight major installations in the area and in the documents in your testimony here, the bases within our district and our Hampton Roads region are mentioned no less than half a dozen times between Norfolk and Joint Base Langley-Fort Eustis. And I laud your quoting of the part about the sand bags, but you know, just finding a solution to cut sand bags by 70 percent is really just the tip if the iceberg on what we are going to need to do in our region to combat sea level rise and recurrent flooding.

So, Mr. Loris, I'll quote you. You said that, "DOD should identify current and near-term vulnerabilities and make the necessary and targeted spending to strengthen military installations." So, I agree with that completely.

But as you know, also, we have to deal with limited resources and I think we need to identify these issues, we need to study them, and we need to determine our priorities. But I also think that we can address these as well with some other things that don't necessarily immediately cost money.

There is quite a bit of land in our region, for example, that doesn't directly benefit the military's mission, and I think that coordination between the localities and the adjacent military bases and installations – that land could be used to facilitate flooding mitigation essentially at no cost to DOD, but in a sharing partnership where the land could be provided to some degree for use by the municipalities and then also to mitigate the flooding on DOD installations and the access roads.

And I'll finish by going back to the list of things that were authorized in the 2019 NDAA, which is the Defense Access Roads Program. That's an essential program, but we didn't put any money behind it last cycle. So, the local municipalities in our area have identified numerous access road projects that will benefit the reliability of access to our military bases within the region, and I think that it’s very important that we put resources behind that to provide for future resiliency.

And lastly, the New Start designation by the Army Corps of Engineers – I think that we should look at … flooding and sea level rise and the impact of flooding and sea level rise on military readiness as additional factors in determining how we rank those limited number of New Start – or even potentially add additional New Start – designations on a yearly basis to take into account the impacts on DOD readiness since there is a limited number of those designations offered each year.

So, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak. … This is such a critical issue to our region and all of our services and Coast Guard located in the area. I just really appreciate the opportunity to speak and provide feedback on the good research that you have done here and how that can help us as Armed Services make decisions.

Congresswoman Elaine Luria represents Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee, where she is the Vice Chair of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, where she serves as Chair of the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee.