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Panetta: Melting Polar Cap Muddles Territorial Claims, Threatens National Security

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told an Environmental Defense Fund reception in Washington last night that the role of climate change in national security is one of the environmental considerations that "weigh heavily" on the Pentagon.

"Though we are looking at environmental issues, these days I'm a little more focused on the operations of a different kind of SEALs," Panetta quipped.

The Environmental Defense Fund was honoring the Pentagon for conservation efforts -- for example, the designation of Fort Ord on the California coast as a national monument.

"In the 21st Century, the reality is that there are environmental threats which constitute threats to our national security," Panetta said. "For example, the area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security: rising sea levels, to severe droughts, to the melting of the polar caps, to more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief."

"I was pointing out the other day that with the polar cap melting, we now have problems with regard to who claims the area in the polar region," he continued. "And very frankly, one of the things I hope we get a chance to work on is to finally get the United States of America to approve the Law of the Seas treaty, which has been hanging out there for so long."

The EDF also heard from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on his department's efforts on clean energy and the environment.