by Stewart Boss
As the combined threat of climate change and energy dependence continues to drive the urgent need to shift away from risky fossil fuels, few entities are leading the charge quite like the U.S. military. In a June memo, General David Petraeus wrote that “ ‘operational energy’ is the lifeblood of our warfighting capabilities.” The military’s ambitious goals for investing in renewables, efficiency and alternative fuels are unparalleled in the U.S. today.
A panel briefing on Thursday hosted by the Pew Charitable Trusts highlighted the extraordinary energy innovations that the Department of Defense as well as the Army, Navy and Air Force are working on collectively under DOD to minimize the risks posed by high fuel use. There is plenty of work to do. According to Petraeus, fuel is responsible for nearly 80 percent of ground supply movement, and the DOD spends $20 billion on 135 million barrels of fuel and 30 million megawatt-hours of electricity every year.
The event, “Leading by Example: How Energy Innovation is Strengthening America’s Military,” brought together three department assistant secretaries who currently serve as the highest-ranking officials directly overseeing energy-related issues in the military. Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, these officials – Katherine Hammack (Army), Jackalyne Pfanneenstiel (Navy) and Terry Yonkers (Air Force) – were all recruited from the private sector. Sharon Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs, reiterated the importance of private-sector innovation and capital to enable the military’s transition to cleaner energy sources.
Despite strong DOD support for leaving the law intact, the House voted yesterday to approve a GOP amendment to the defense spending bill that blocks funding for Section 526, which bans the federal procurement of alternative fuels with higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fossil fuels as part of extensive and bipartisan energy legislation that passed in 2007. This comes despite vocal opposition from DOD, clearly expressed in a July 5 memo:
This exemption could further increase America’s reliance on non-renewable fuels. Our dependence on those types of fuels degrades our national security, negatively impacts our economy, and harms our planet. This exemption would also send a negative signal to America’s advanced biofuel industry and could result in adverse impacts to U.S. job creation, rural development efforts, and the export of world leading technology…. The Department urges exclusion of the House provision. The existing law has not, in any way, prevented the Department from meeting its current mission needs.
Pfannenstiel outlined Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ aggressive Five Energy Goals and affirmed that these are not just lofty goals, but rather part of a 5-year, $4 billion plan to save lives, save money and enhance national energy security:
- Changing the way the Navy and Marine Corps award contracts during the acquisition process to consider the lifetime energy cost of the system
- By 2012, creating a “Great Green Fleet” composed of nuclear vessels and ships powered by biofuels and deploying that fleet by 2016
- By 2015, reducing petroleum use in its 50,000 commercial vehicle fleet by 50 percent by phasing in hybrid fuel and electric vehicles
- Producing at least half the shore-based energy requirements from renewable sources, such as solar, wind and ocean generated by the base
- By 2020, ensuring at least 40 percent of the Navy’s total energy consumption comes from alternative sources.
These are serious and profound initiatives that are going to transform and strengthen the Navy over the next decade while curbing climate pollution and cutting costs. As Yonkers highlighted, “Every dollar saved by managing our energy resources is a dollar that we can invest in the fight, or other high Air Force priorities.”
Pfannenstiel explained the intended impact of the Navy’s vast array of energy initiatives:
We’re spending our $4 billion wisely, on programs that are going to institutionalize the energy practices we support. Those of us who have been around the energy field for a long time – forever – recognize that this nation’s energy focus has been fickle. Oil prices go up, there’s a rash of technologies that look interesting, oil prices go down, we move on to other things. So the Department of the Navy is going to demonstrate that our military mission can be accomplished based on a fundamentally different paradigm for energy.
NPR’s Diane Rehm had an excellent piece this week on “The Military and Alternative Energy” with an in-depth discussion of the economic and security risks of the military’s current fossil fuel dependence. You can listen here.
Despite the U.S. military’s lengthy and continued engagement in two wars in the Middle East, not to mention an absurdly high $20.2 billion annual price tag for A/C in Iraq and Afghanistan, NYT columnist Tom Friedman pointed out a potential bright spot last year in his column “The U.S.S. Prius.”
Unlike the Congress, which can be bought off by Big Oil and Big Coal, it is not so easy to tell the Marines that they can’t buy the solar power that could save lives. I don’t know what the final outcome in Iraq or Afghanistan will be, but if we come out of these two wars with a Pentagon-led green revolution, I know they won’t be a total loss. Wars that were driven partly by our oil addiction end up forcing us to break our oil addiction? Wouldn’t that be interesting?
As former Senator John Warner (R-VA), who served on the Senate Armed Services Committee and now advises Pew’s Project on National Security, Energy and Climate, also noted, the military isn’t just deploying clean energy technologies – it’s also developing respected American leaders that recognize the importance of clean energy innovation.
You’ve got another asset that you’re developing, and that is these young men and women when they finish their military service … there is nobody in America today with a greater degree of credibility and admiration than those who wear the uniform. And as they leave the service and go home, isn’t there a way we can incentivize them more to step out and tell their local townships and tell their cities and tell their universities and tell others about how we in the service personally experienced the essential need to have that energy and to use it efficiently, and we are doing it, so why can’t we do it back here at home?
The U.S. military is addressing these energy issues as a “critical vulnerability” in their operations and developing a model for how the rest of the country can make the transition to a new energy paradigm. At home and abroad, climate inaction and fossil fuel addiction don’t just ignore the science – they perpetuate a dangerous strategic vulnerability that is at the foundation of our energy economy.
— Stewart Boss, Energy Intern at the Center for American Progress