Guest Commentary

The military knows climate change is real. And Lake City is at risk

Steve Anderson
Steve Anderson

A recent Department of Defense report raises serious concerns about the impact of climate change on the Lake City Army Ammunition Facility in Independence and dozens of other defense installations across the country. It is a wake-up call about the risks climate change poses to critical military operations.

National security remains one area where common sense and the national interest can still produce collaboration across the aisle in Washington, D.C. — something increasingly rare these days. Even on tough issues, members of the congressional armed services committees often find ways to work things out. So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the annual National Defense Authorization Act is among the first places to see bipartisan, (albeit modest) climate-related legislation, with the 2018 version of the legislation requiring a report on the impacts of climate change on the military.

Since the bill’s passage, the need to update military climate risk assessments has become even more obvious, as extreme weather has wreaked havoc on defense installations. In the past year alone, Hurricane Florence battered Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, causing billions of dollars in damage. In Florida, Hurricane Michael devastated Tyndall Air Force Base, with damage estimates exceeding $5 billion. In the Midwest, late-winter floodwater from the Platte and Missouri Rivers inundated Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base. Fortunately, U.S. Strategic Command, housed on Offutt, escaped damage. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, wildfires torched areas of Camp Pendleton last summer, forcing the Marines to evacuate hundreds of on-base homes .

In response to Congress’ mandate, the Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense was issued in January. The department produced a follow-up in April, identifying the 10 priority installations in each military service most vulnerable to climate change.

As expected, the list include places such as Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, Naval Base San Diego and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But, in a clear indication that the impacts of climate change extend well beyond the coasts, it also counted at-risk facilities in the western Rocky Mountains, the Southwest and the Midwest, such as Independence’s own Lake City plant.

Employing approximately 1,900 people, the Northrup Grumman-operated Lake City plant manufactures and tests small-caliber ammunition. It is the single largest producer of small arms ammunition for the military. According to the Army, the predominant risk to the plant is recurrent flooding from the Missouri River, the potential implications of which were on vivid display with Offutt’s recent experience upriver.

The impacts of extreme weather on installations such as Lake City can extend well beyond the fence line. For example, interruptions to the supply of critical materials such as ammunition can impact military training and readiness. Maintaining adequate stockpiles is essential to ensuring the military is ready to fight if called upon. General Gus Perna, who runs Army Materiel Command, recently made that point: “This means having the right munitions — small-caliber to precision munitions — where we need them at the right time and the right place.”

As a career Army logistics officer and the senior logistician in Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea for over six years, I couldn’t agree more. And Lake City isn’t the only Army ammunition plant at risk. The Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Virginia and the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma are also named on the Army’s list.

The Department of Defense climate report is eye-opening and Congress was right to require it. But that was actually the easy part. What remains is the more difficult task of doing something about climate change. Part of the solution will be mitigation measures to reduce its impact, but we won’t make a dent in the problem without aggressive steps to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. The report makes clear that denying the problem exists is not an option.

Retired Brigadier General Steve Anderson served for 31 years in the U.S. Army in key logistics combat and peacetime operational assignments all over the world.