Bipartisan group of former officials, lawmakers say warming is a security issue

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Former Cabinet officials and lawmakers from both parties are among the 37 signers of an open letter released today that highlights the potential impact of climate change on geopolitical stability and U.S. national security.

Former Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) were among those calling on their former colleagues in the Partnership for a Secure America letter to “support American security and global stability by addressing the risks of climate change in vulnerable nations.”

Lugar, who served as top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored legislation in the 111th Congress that would have created the clean energy standard that President Obama later made a centerpiece of two State of the Union addresses. Lieberman co-sponsored with then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade bill in the same Congress. Neither bill made it to the floor.

The letter argues that while poorer countries would be most vulnerable to climate change-related deprivation and danger, the United States would be called on to respond to increased disasters with aid and military resources.

“Without precautionary measures, climate change impacts abroad could spur mass migrations, influence civil conflict and ultimately lead to a more unpredictable world,” the letter says.

The letter’s 37 signatories comprise 16 former senators and Congress members; nine retired generals and admirals; both the chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission; and Cabinet and Cabinet-level officials from the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

The letter proposes that the public and private sectors “work together to meet the funding demands of this strategic investment in internationally-backed solutions.”

The letter doesn’t focus on regulation, and former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey said at an event rolling out the letter today that it might not be necessary for Congress to price carbon by passing cap-and-trade or carbon tax legislation. Emissions reductions are already happening, he said, because natural gas is replacing coal in electricity generation and U.S. EPA is moving to curb carbon dioxide by introducing regulations under the Clean Air Act.

“That was much more important before [hydraulic fracturing] had so reduced the price of gas that gas on a pure cost basis is beating coal,” he said.

“If the purpose of the cap-and-trade program was to get people to move from coal to gas — or less carbon fuels — we’re kind of doing it,” he said. “We’re beating the Europeans and everybody with respect to getting carbon down now.”

But former Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), who shared the podium today with Woolsey, said a carbon price might again be needed if the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is allowed to go forward, bringing high-carbon-emissions oil from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

“If that pipeline is passed, if that pipeline is a source of oil for the U.S., and if that drops the price of oil … and oil becomes competitive again with natural gas, then I think cap and trade would be in order,” he said.

Gilchrest also touted the importance of science education to allow a new generation of voters to better understand climate change. Woolsey, who said he was not sold on the idea that human-caused emissions alone are driving climate change, focused his remarks on the need to improve the nation’s power grid to allow it to take better advantage of renewable energy. The Defense Department should also ensure that more of its bases can operate off the grid, he said.

The partnership is a nonprofit founded by former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) and the late Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) to advance bipartisanship on national security and foreign policy issues.