Economist Howley Challenges National Security Agency’s Environmental Impact Statement

AKA “No Such Agency,” the super-secret NSA cultivates carefully its image as the “smartest guys in the room” — code-breakers, linguists, computer programmers, Internet snoopers and so on.  But the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the NSA expansion at its campus in Fort Meade, Maryland, contradicts this image.

The greatest environmental challenge facing our nation and our global community is human-caused climate change.  This challenge is so profound that it entails significant national security implications as well.  Yet the NSA’s DEIS mostly overlooks it — except for passing references.

The Proposed Action that is the subject of the DEIS is 1.8 million square feet of office space and data center.  As detailed in these comments submitted to the NSA, the DEIS is deficient because it does not (1) consider the Alternative of building the project as Zero-Net-Energy and (2) the DEIS does not estimate either the projected amount of electricity the facilities will purchase from the grid nor the associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The DEIS ignores important, government-wide initiatives under way to cut energy use and GHG emissions.  Executive Order 13514 says that, beginning in 2020, all federal buildings should be built as Zero-Net-Energy.  The NSA are the “best and the brightest” — why can’t they do it now?

The DEIS makes no attempt to account for GHG emissions from purchased energy — even though this can be done quite easily — as is illustrated in the comments.

The DEIS ignores the State of Maryland’s statutory energy efficiency goals even though the Draft Guidance prepared by the Council on Environmental Quality on how agencies should deal with GHG emissions in an environmental impact statement says that federal, state and local energy goals should ne included in the analysis.

If the NSA had done a complete analysis of their projected power usage, then it would become obvious that this project will put a significant strain on the local power grid, force up prices for homeowners and businesses and increase pressure to build the “coal-by-wire” PATH transmission project.

Construction of PATH would leave the NSA headquarters more dependent on long-distance transmission of dirty power and vulnerable to natural or man-made disruptions.  There are better ways to do it: IBM has developed a data center that runs “off the grid.”

Building a coal-by-wire transmission line from West Virginia’s John Amos coal plant to a massive new substation in Mt. Airy, Maryland — a short hop from Fort Meade — and connecting it to an energy-inefficient new data center might please a certain powerful member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  Coal-addicted John D. Rockefeller IV served as chairman of the committee during 2007-09 (and continues as the senior Democrat behind the new chair) and is a strong supporter of PATH.  John D. Rockefeller is leading the attack on the Environmental Protection Agency from within President Obama’s own party.

Here is an opportunity to reassure taxpayers that our national-security policies cannot be held hostage to parochial, pork-barrel interests.  By constructing “Site M” as a Zero-Net-Energy facility, the NSA can show the world that it understands the strategic ramifications of climate change and is committing to do something about it.

If you would like a copy of the DEIS, then you must request one by email.  (Why can’t they PDF it and put it on the Internet like all the other agencies do?)


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