Dear Secretary Hagel…

Senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven of North Dakota, and Jon Tester and John Walsh of Montana jointly submitted a letter late Thursday to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, expressing their strenuous opposition to any attempt by the Department of Defense to proceed with an environmental impact study or assessment on the elimination of Minuteman III missile silos.

In the letter, the senators cite Section 8128 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, which prohibits defense funding from going toward “any environmental impact analysis related to Minuteman III silos that contain a missile.” The senators seek an immediate response to their letter from the defense secretary, with “an assurance that such an unnecessary and seemingly illegal move will not be carried out.”

A news release accompanying the letter alludes to “recent reports” that DoD “may try to circumvent the federal law and begin a study.” A member of Hoeven’s staff also indicated that while no study has yet been initiated, such an action is in the review stages at the Air Force level.

Air Force public affairs officers referred inquiries to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, a call to which was not returned by press time. The letter and news release had both been made available after regular business hours.

The two states the lawmakers represent are each home to one third of the military’s 450 Minuteman III missiles, with the rest stationed in Wyoming. The 91st Missile Wing stationed at Minot Air Force Base represents one half of its dual mission, along with the 5th Bomb Wing. On the base’s website, the missile wing is said to employ “approximately 1,500 professionals.”

The senators’ letter stressed that the country’s intercontinental ballistic missiles are “the most stabilizing and visible constant in our nuclear posture,” and their adjoining release called it the most cost-effective to maintain of the military’s nuclear triad.