Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Feb 20 2014

Heitkamp and Hoeven Call on Defense Dept to Follow Law, Halt Environmental Study of ICBM Silos

Join Senators Tester and Walsh in Responding to DoD Effort to Potentially Eliminate Nuclear Missiles

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven today called on the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to follow federal law and halt any move to conduct an environmental study of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos at Minot Air Force Base and nationwide, which could potentially lead to the removal of the missiles and closure of the silos.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Hoeven authored the provision in the Department of Defense appropriations bill that blocked the administration from eliminating operational U.S. nuclear missile silos. The amendment barred the Defense Department from conducting environmental studies to reduce the number of active silos containing Minuteman III ICBMs and became law last month.

The bipartisan Senate ICBM Coalition, to which Hoeven and Heitkamp belong, supported the Hoeven provision that blocks the DOD from conducting the study. Hoeven and Heitkamp – in this letter and previous actions – pointed out that the recently enacted appropriations law prevents DoD from using federal funds to conduct any sort of environmental impact analysis.  DoD has not yet completed its plan to determine the nation’s best possible strategy for its nuclear forces.

Recent reports indicate, however, that the Department may try to circumvent the federal law and begin a study.

“Our brave service members at Minot Air Force Base help support the strongest possible deterrent for those who could potentially wish the United States harm. The language in the bill explicitly bars the Defense Department from conducting this study, which could compromise our national security. Keeping these silos up and running is in the best interest of Minot, North Dakota, and America,” said the senators.

Hoeven and Heitkamp continue to fight to maintain a strong ICBM force at Minot Air Force Base and throughout the country. In addition to supporting the provision in the recent funding bill, they have spoken with new Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James about the importance of the Base’s ICBM forces.The group is collectively calling on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to back away from the plan to conduct an Environmental Impact Study.

The United States’ nuclear weapons arsenal is divided into three elements: land-based missiles in silos, missiles aboard submarines, and bombers.  Inter-continental ballistic missiles are the most cost-effective leg of the triad because they cost less to maintain.

The full letter Heitkamp, Hoeven, Tester and Walsh sent is below:

Dear Secretary Hagel:

We write to make very clear our strenuous opposition to any attempt by the Department of Defense to circumvent existing law to proceed with an Environmental Impact Study or an Environmental Assessment on the elimination of Minuteman III silos.  If the Defense Department is in fact pursuing such a course, we demand the legal justification for how it could so directly contradict the letter of the law and the repeatedly stated will of Congress.

As explicitly stated in Section 8128 of H.R. 3547, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, which was signed into law on January 17, 2014:

None of the funds available to the Department of Defense shall be used to conduct any environmental impact analysis related to Minuteman III silos that contain a missile as of the date of the enactment of this Act.

In addition to compromising the most stabilizing and visible constant in our nuclear posture, it would directly represent a breach of faith.  And any attempts to move forward with such an environmental study would greatly undermine the historically constructive and cooperative nature of our working relationship. 

Given the gravity of the issue, we request an immediate response to this letter, and an assurance that such an unnecessary and seemingly illegal move will not be carried out. 

Sincerely, 

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT)

Senator John Hoeven (R-ND)

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

Senator John Walsh (D-MT)