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Chuck Hagel's Real Problem May Be Climate Change Chuck Hagel's Real Problem May Be Climate Change

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Chuck Hagel's Real Problem May Be Climate Change

Forget about Israel. Hagel made his name opposing a global warming accord.


Chuck Hagel arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

When Chuck Hagel's name first came up to be defense secretary the reaction was positive--a Douglas Dillon/Robert Gates-style GOP appointment for a that was bipartisan and helped Democrats buttress an area where they'd been perceived as being weak. But then, attention on Hagel's comments about Israel set Twitter aflame.

But it's Hagel's work on the environment that may prove to be a more nagging question--one hardly likely to derail his nomination but interesting nonetheless.


One of the first high profile things that Hagel worked on after coming to the U.S. Senate in 1997 was going after the Kyoto climate accord. He was a congressional observer at the meeting and, along with the late coal champion Sen. Robert Byrd, authored the resolution against it.

To be fair, that measure passed 95-0 and Hagel's objections echoed that of many members, namely that too little was being asked of mega-polluters India and China. But it portended future opposition to environmental measures. Daily Kos reminds us that former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill recounts how, with Dick Cheney's prodding, Hagel wrote a letter questioning new emissions standards put out by Christie Whitman's EPA. Their full account is here

All of this is relevant to the defense secretary's job because of the huge energy impact the Pentagon has with all those ships, planes, trucks, troops, missiles, and helicopters. It matters because of all of the green initiatives launched under former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. My National Journal colleagues, Coral Davenport and Yochi Dreazen, have done great reporting on this. Read their work to see how vital a green Pentagon has become to a national green strategy.


After I first posted this item, I got a shout from Andrew Holland who worked on energy and climate issues as a legislative assistant to Sen. Hagel and is now the Senior Fellow for Energy and Climate Policy with the American Security Project where Hagel is on the board. He notes that Hagel, as a senator, directed the National Intelligence Estimate, the government's top report, to investigate climate change. Holland also told me about a new climate report put out by the American Security Project

ÔÇťAmerica and the world face unprecedented, complex, and interconnected 21st Century challenges. Environmental issues will continue to have unpredictable and destabilizing effects on developing and developed countries alike," Hagel said in the report.

That does not sound like Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma Senator and climate change denier.

All worth considering as Hagel may or may not be the next Defense Secretary.


Even before Holland's note I thought it unlikely in the extreme that Hagel would spend political capital trying to undue the DOD's green initiatives. Now I'm not sure he'd share the criticisms of those programs that have been pushed by John McCain and Inhofe. 

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