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Congress looks to gut emissions reporting requirements for military contractors

Lawmakers want to make it harder to determine the ecological impact of weapons manufacturers, and activists aren’t happy.

Global Crises

The defense policy bills that passed the House and Senate last month each include provisions that would block public reporting on greenhouse gas emissions by military contractors, according to a new open letter from more than two dozen activist groups and research organizations.

“[W]e urge you to ensure that this bill is not used to protect defense contractors from accounting for their role in driving climate change,” they wrote in a letter addressed to the leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. “In a budget authorization that expands funding for the most polluting sector of our government yet again, this carve-out for defense contractors is a particularly egregious attempt to shirk even the possibility of future emissions reductions.”

The letter’s signatories include the Center for International Policy, Just Foreign Policy, the Project on Government Oversight, Win Without War and the Quincy Institute, which publishes Responsible Statecraft.

The open letter comes amid a growing debate over how to balance America’s world-spanning military — which emits more greenhouse gasses each year than most countries — with the Biden administration’s efforts to fight climate change. Researchers have been able to get reasonable estimates of the Pentagon’s annual emissions, but data on emissions produced by weapons contractors is far harder to come by and often relies on back-of-the-napkin math. Research from Neta Crawford of Brown University suggests that the U.S. military industry may actually emit more than the Department of Defense itself.

The White House proposed a regulation last year that would force all major federal contractors to disclose their emissions and create a plan to reduce them, but lawmakers in both chambers of Congress quietly added carve-outs for the defense industry in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The Senate NDAA includes provisions that would remove the emissions reporting requirements for “nontraditional defense contractors” and place a two-year moratorium on the regulation for the rest of the weapons industry. This is tantamount to “attempting to run out the clock on federal enforcement of the rule, likely in hopes that a different administration will roll it back completely,” the letter argues.

The House version of the NDAA is more direct. It completely bans the implementation of the policy as well as “any substantially similar rule” and exempts the military from an executive order aimed at fighting climate change.

Given the differences in the two NDAAs, the administration will have a chance to argue against these carve-outs as the bills go to conference. But it remains to be seen whether the White House will be able to find a deal to protect the regulation.

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