Think Tank Funded by the Weapons Industry Pressures Biden Not to Regulate Military Contractors' Emissions

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly over the Hudson River during a military demonstration as part of July 4th events on July 4, 2020 in New York City. (Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images)

Think Tank Funded by the Weapons Industry Pressures Biden Not to Regulate Military Contractors' Emissions

The Heritage Foundation has received considerable donations from the arms industry. And now it's trying to shield that industry from climate regulations targeting military contractors.…

The Heritage Foundation, a prominent conservative think tank, is publicly opposing a new Biden administration regulation that would force the weapons industry to report its greenhouse gas emissions related to federal contracts. It turns out the Heritage Foundation also receives significant funding from the weapons industry, which makes the case worth examining -- because it reveals how the arms industry pays supposedly respectable institutions to do its policy bidding at the expense of a planet careening toward large-scale climate disaster.

The regulation in question was first proposed in an executive order in May. It would require federal contractors to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and their "climate-related financial risk," and to set "science-based reduction targets." In other words, companies like Lockheed Martin would have to disclose how much carbon pollution its F-35 aircraft and cluster bombs actually cause.

"The Department of Defense is the world's biggest institutional consumer of fossil fuels and a bigger carbon polluter than 140 countries."

In October, the Biden administration started the process to amend federal procurement rules to reflect these changes. "Today's action sends a strong signal that in order to do business with the federal government, companies must protect consumers by beginning to mitigate the impact of climate change on their operations and supply chains," Shalanda Young, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said at the time.

The Department of Defense is the world's biggest institutional consumer of fossil fuels and a bigger carbon polluter than 140 countries. Yet its emissions (and those of other armed forces) are excluded from UN climate negotiations, including the recent COP26 talks. The Biden administration itself supports a massive military budget, initially requesting $753 billion for the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, a number that has since ballooned, with the Senate set to vote on a $778 billion plan. Organizers and researchers argue that, to curb the climate crisis, it is necessary to roll back U.S. militarism and dismantle the military budget.

But according to the Heritage Foundation, even this modest proposal is a bridge too far. Earlier in November, Maiya Clark, research associate in the Heritage Foundation's Center for National Defense, wrote an article blasting the proposed changes as harmful to the "defense industrial base" of the United States. "The additional expense of measuring, reporting, and reducing contractors' greenhouse gas emissions would in turn be passed along to their customer: the Department of Defense," she writes in the article, co-published in the conservative Washington Examiner. As a result, Clark argues, the Department of Defense wouldn't be able to afford the items it needs to fortify itself, threatening America's war-fighting ability.

"Defense industrial base" is a buzzword that has picked up steam during the pandemic: It sends the message that, whatever happens with the economy and pandemic, we need to make sure we are in "fighting shape" -- by keeping military contractors afloat. This concept was invoked to explain why, at the beginning of the pandemic, factories that produce bombs and tankers should be allowed to stay open, even amid the outbreak risk to workers. And it was also used to justify subsidies to contractors during the hardship of the pandemic.

Clark's framing could lead one to believe that the Department of Defense is forced to resort to bake sales to afford its F-35s. In reality, the United States has the largest military budget in the world by far -- greater than the next 11 countries combined. And that trend is poised to remain as Congress moves to pass another mammoth military budget. As Lindsay Koshgarian, program director for National Priorities Project, a research organization, tells In These Times: "The idea that the military industrial complex is in danger is laughable. This is an industry that took in $3.4 trillion in public funds in the last ten years, more than half of all military spending during that time. That kind of funding should at the very least come with some accountability."

Ultimately, Clark's piece argues that the regulations are unfair to companies. Clark writes that "adding burdensome regulations to the already onerous Federal Acquisition Regulation would create a difficult or even impossible task for contractors, leading some firms to simply exit the defense market. The largest defense contractors for the biggest programs, like Lockheed Martin for the F-35 or Huntington Ingalls for the Ford-class aircraft carrier, would somehow have to collect emissions data for their tens of thousands of subcontractors and suppliers."

Clark leaves unexplained why the financial well-being of a company that manufactured the bomb that killed 40 Yemeni children in a school bus in 2018 should be weighted more heavily than modest regulations aimed at staving off humanity-threatening climate change. What's more, Lockheed Martin is doing just fine financially, and has received considerable help from the government during the pandemic.

Most importantly, Clark leaves out this critical detail: Lockheed Martin is just one of numerous weapons manufacturers that has directly funded the Heritage Foundation. According to a report by the think tank Center for International Policy (CIP), the Heritage Foundation ranks ninth among the top think tanks that received funding from military contractors and the U.S. government from 2014 to 2019. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon were two of those major funders, both of which are among the largest weapons companies in the world and would be impacted by the new regulation.

Ben Freeman, author of the CIP report, says, "Unfortunately, since that report was published, Heritage has moved towards full secrecy on donors, and doesn't publish any specifics," but adds he is "100%" certain the think tank still receives funding from the weapons industry. "If they had suddenly stopped, I'd be shocked," he tells In These Times.

The Heritage Foundation did not respond to a request from In These Times for information about its funding sources, but even under the unlikely scenario that the Heritage Foundation decided to drastically halt its cash stream from weapons companies, the documented donations are recent enough that, likely, the programs or staffers that money funded are still around. Regardless, the article raises questions about what kind of advocacy the weapons industry might be doing behind closed doors. And the fact that it name-checks the hardships imposed on Lockheed Martin, which we know has provided funding to the Heritage Foundation, certainly raises eyebrows.

This case provides a window into the murky world of think tanks, which are often viewed as academic and above-the-fray institutions but operate more as lobbying outfits. If Lockheed Martin were to run its own public relations campaign against the Biden administration's climate regulation, the public might rightfully be skeptical of a company that markets weapons; an influential and prominent think tank, with its long history of influencing government, is better positioned to take up such a cause.

Founded in 1973, the Heritage Foundation exerted significant power over the Reagan administration, which adopted a vast swath of the think tank's recommendations, from tax policy to military spending. The Heritage Foundation would go on to influence the Tea Party movement and the Trump administration, claiming credit for Trump's imposition of work requirement rules for food stamp recipients. Arguably, the Heritage Foundation's top policy priority is opposing unions and social programs for the poor, but it also shows consistent opposition to climate actions, however meager, arguing that climate diplomacy toward China is too conciliatory and that new research and dire warnings about the consequences of climate change from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change aren't a "blank check for green policies."

The Washington Examiner, which co-published Clark's article, is a subsidiary of Clarity Media Group, known for its extremely conservative bent. So this isn't the kind of article meant to appeal to liberals. Rather, the article sends a message to the business community and conservative groups that the Heritage Foundation is taking a position against even modest regulation.

Until December 14, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council is soliciting public comment as it considers making regulatory changes to reflect the new rule and "ensure that major Federal agency procurements minimize the risk of climate change." Clark's article appears timed for this period of public input, though it remains unclear whether the Heritage Foundation's opposition, with its weapons-industry backers, will influence regulators.

As the climate crisis brings increasingly catastrophic storms, droughts, flash floods and heat waves, the stakes of these kinds of shadow advocacy efforts are monumental. The latest United Nations report warns that dramatic action to curb greenhouse gas emissions must be taken immediately -- on a global scale -- to stave off worst-case scenarios, which would likely see mass death events and entire countries swallowed into the sea.

In the words of Koshgarian: "Climate change is the single biggest existential threat we face, and the military itself is a significant source of emissions. So no, we shouldn't stick our heads in the sand about how much the military industrial complex is emitting."

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