Senators’ ICBM group tells Hagel no environmental study

North Dakota’s two senators and the U.S. Senate’s bipartisan ICBM Coalition are telling Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to back away from a Defense Department plan to conduct an environmental impact study on the possible elimination of intercontinental ballistic missile silos.

The coalition’s letter to Hagel argued that the Defense Department and the Air Force need to determine how many submarine-launched missiles, bombers and land-based missiles it wants under New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) before conducting any study-related to eliminating ICBM silos.

“Our letter makes it clear that environmental studies should not dictate our nuclear force posture,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. “That is why I included language in the 2014 Defense Appropriations bill that prohibits funding for this study.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee agreed to an amendment authored by Hoeven that would prohibit the Defense Department from funding a silo-related environmental impact study in 2014. The committee approved that legislation on Aug. 1, and it awaits consideration on the Senate floor. The House of Representatives approved a similar provision in its version of the 2014 defense appropriations bill.

Hoeven, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and other senators called the Defense Department’s plan “premature,” given that the administration has not finished its implementation plan for the New START Treaty. They also said that pending legislation in both the Senate and the House of Representatives prohibits the department from moving forward on such an environmental study with fiscal year 2014 funds.

The senators also called on the administration to consult with Congress before implementing New START changes.

The United States’ nuclear weapons arsenal is divided into three elements: land-based missiles in silos (ICBMs) and missiles aboard submarines and bombers.

The United States currently has 450 ICBMs, located in states across the American West. Minot AFB’s 91st Missile Wing has 150 of the 450 ICBMs in underground facilities in the Minot missile field.

The bipartisan Senate ICBM Coalition also includes Sen. Max Baucu, D-Mont., Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. Also joining the letter are Senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., Mike Johanns, R-Neb., Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.