Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

Defense secretary possibility made name opposing global warming accord

Forget about his Israel comments. Chuck Hagel's record on the environment is the real problem.

When Chuck Hagel's name first came up to be Defense secretary the reaction was positive -- a Douglas Dillon/Robert Gates-style GOP appointment for a Democratic president that was bipartisan and helped Democrats buttress an area where they'd been perceived as being week. In the last few days, attention on Hagel's comments about Israel have set Twitter aflame. See here and here

But it's Hagel's work on the environment that may prove to be a more nagging question -- one hardly likely to derail a potential nomination but interesting nonetheless.

One of the first high profile things that Hagel worked on after coming to the U.S. Senate in 1997 was going after the Kyoto climate accord. He was a congressional observer at the meeting and, along with the late coal champion Sen. Robert Byrd, authored the resolution against it.

To be fair, that measure passed 95-0. But it portended future opposition to environmental measures. Daily Kos reminds us that former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill recounts how, with Dick Cheney's prodding, Hagel wrote a letter questioning new emissions standards put out by Christie Whitman's EPA. Their full account is here

All of this is relevant to the defense secretary's job because of the huge energy impact the Pentagon has with all those ships, planes, trucks, troops, missiles, and helicopters. It matters because of all of the green initiatives launched under Bob Gates. My National Journal colleagues, Coral Davenport and Yochi Dreazen, have done great reporting on this. Read their work to see how vital a green Pentagon has become to a national green strategy.

Maybe Hagel has had a change of heart on climate change. And even if he hasn't it's unlikely in the extreme that he'd spend political capital trying to undue the Pentagon's green initiatives especially when John Kerry would, as secretary of state, bring even more personal attention to green issues than Hillary Clinton. (Like Al Gore, he's written a book on the topic and made it a centerpiece of his global thinking.)

But if Hagel is nominated, here's to hoping his environmental views get just some of the attention his views on Israel do.