Editorial: Protecting military bases

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A bill introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott and making its way through Congress should be good for the military, for national defense and for the health of the Chesapeake Bay that’s so important to the economy and quality of life here in Hampton Roads.

The legislation authorizing a new Department of Defense stormwater management program had bipartisan backing, with Reps. Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk, and Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, among the co-sponsors. The House passed it with bipartisan support within a few days as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2022 fiscal year.

As the Senate debates its version of the NDAA, it should adopt this measure to protect our military installations.

Scott, a Democrat from Newport News, mentioned the importance of climate resilience and the threats posed to military bases — particularly those in Hampton Roads — from increased flooding as he introduced the bill. He pointed to related problem of runoff from military bases being a major source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The bill, called the Enhancing Military Base Resilience and Conserving Ecosystems Through Stormwater Management Act (or EMBRACE Stormwater Management, for short), is designed to tackle both problems.

Climate change has put numerous military bases at increased risk of flooding, with Naval Station Norfolk, Naval Air Station Oceana, Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads and Langley Air Force Base on the list of those already dealing with flooding.

The Defense Department has wisely understood for some time that climate change and environmental degradation pose very real threats to national security. The Navy, with both bases and operations at sea affected by climate change and its implications, has been working to prepare for rising sea levels and coastal flooding.

The Navy also has been working hard to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. That makes sense. Burning fossil fuels is a leading cause of climate change, and it’s a security threat to depend heavily on dwindling supplies of foreign oil.

Earlier this year, the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station won the Secretary of the Navy Environmental Award for Natural Resources Conservation, recognizing efforts that included designing oyster reefs to help prevent shoreline erosion and clean the water.

Scott’s bill builds on these efforts. It would help the Navy follow best management practices to reduce flooding on and around military bases. For Hampton Roads bases, that means less flooding, less pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and less stress for military families and others living in flood-prone areas.

The bill instructs the Defense Department to give priority to projects that retrofit buildings and grounds on bases and improve access roads prone to flooding. It backs the building of stormwater ponds and other retention strategies. It also supports replacing impermeable paving with materials that let water seep into the soil rather than run off. Projects such as rain gardens, cisterns and planters also would be eligible for funds.

These practical measures can make a difference and fit well with other strategies the Defense Department and the Navy in particular are already using.

It makes sense to protect our military bases from the effects of climate change and resulting extreme weather and rising sea levels. It also makes sense for the nation’s military forces to lead the way in the nation’s efforts to help reduce climate change and protect the environment, including the Chesapeake Bay.

Keeping military bases safe and fully functional is essential to our national security. Equally essential is protecting the environment of the nation and of the world. Rising sea levels and more powerful storms can lead to growing poverty, conflict and instability around the world. A warming climate can affect resources and shipping lanes.

This is an example of what’s good for the environment — including here in Hampton Roads — and what’s good for the military being inextricably linked. Rep. Scott was right to introduce this bill, and its bipartisan backing confirms its merits. Congress should make it law and let the work begin.

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