Military Leaders Want to Save Money and Lives with Clean Energy, While GOP Leaders Want to Stop Them

by Stewart Boss

At a time when many conservative lawmakers are strongly opposing renewable energy and denying the science of climate change, it’s interesting that the Department of Defense — the nation’s largest energy user, representing 80% of federal sector energy consumption — remains fully committed to reducing energy consumption and developing renewable energy technologies.

Given the massive scope of these initiatives, perhaps no other federal agency is pushing toward a clean energy economy more decisively than the U.S. military.

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the signing of the 2010 Memorandum of Understanding between the DoD and the Department of Energy (DOE):

Energy efficiency can serve as a force multiplier, increasing the range and endurance of forces in the field while reducing the number of combat forces diverted to protect energy supply lines, as well as reducing long-term energy costs.

DoD is also increasing its use of renewable energy supplies and reducing energy demand to improve energy security and operational effectiveness, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in support of U.S. climate change initiatives, and protect the DoD from energy price fluctuations. Solving military challenges through innovation has the potential to yield spin-off technologies that benefit the civilian community as well.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), E3G and Operation Free hosted a Hill briefing titled “More Fight, Less Fuel” on Wednesday with top military and civilian experts to provide an in-depth analysis of the DoD’s ambitious goals.


Although the military is looking at how climate change could impact operations, the rationale for action has more to do with getting access to secure resources. Thomas Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, acknowledged the DoD’s position that climate change “may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict,” but described the consideration of climate change as a “second-order effect” of the military’s green energy innovation.

What’s abundantly clear is that the military’s commitment to clean energy innovation is motivated by a desire to save money and improve the DoD’s bottom line. Sherri Goodman, Executive Director of the Center for Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board, said:

These programs, by and large, particularly the energy programs, are going to be saving the military departments money in a year of declining defense budgets, so it would be penny-wise and pound-foolish to cut too deeply.

In a White House blog post from July 15, Sharon Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy, pointed out that “a $1 rise in the price of a barrel of oil translates to approximately $130 million over the course of a year” at the DoD. And on Wednesday, Hicks quipped, “The best kilowatt-hour is the one we don’t use,” as he emphasized that the military is counting on the “stream of savings” from reduced energy use.

In the last year, the U.S. military has launched substantial and cost-effective initiatives to meet these energy challenges. And yet, despite strong objections from DoD, GOP House members recently voted to block 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.


Earlier this week at Politico’s “Energy & The Presidency” debate, Sen. John Barasso (R-WY) lamented “the cost to the economy of subsidizing the green jobs at the expense of what I call the red, white and blue jobs.” Barasso has been a vocal critic of President Obama’s promotion of “green jobs while penalizing red, white and blue energy sources” — which to him means Big Oil and King Coal.

Later Wednesday, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) pushed back on Sen. Barasso’s dirty energy version of patriotism:

This could be our greatest legacy, not just for the military but for America in general, to find a way to be more energy self-reliant. I think green and clean, combined with traditional fossil fuels, is the new red, white, and blue. There’s nothing more patriotic that we could do than to ensure that we’re energy self-reliant going forward into the 21st century.

Conservatives opposing further investment in military development and deployment of clean and efficient energy technologies are, to borrow a phrase from Goodman, the definition of “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

Eager to score ideological victories by denouncing the reality of climate change and rejecting the existence of readily available climate solutions, Republicans aren’t grasping that cutting spending for an investment that would save energy and money over the long haul doesn’t equal “fiscal conservatism.”

— Stewart Boss, intern with the Energy and Environment team at the Center for American ProgressEESI produced a great fact sheet for the event with an overview of the major initiatives of the DoD, Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, as well as a summary of relevant federal legislation and executive orders and a map sampling of projects pertaining to efficiency and renewables at installations in the U.S. today. You can listen to the audio from the event here.


E&E Daily (subscription required) has a story out today reporting that the Air Force Fuels Certification Office says 99% of the Air Force fleet has been approved to use the dirty and carbon-intensive “coal-to-liquids” fuels that are currently banned by Section 526:

It was the Air Force’s interest in coal-to-liquid fuels that first moved Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) to include a provision in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act that bans the federal government from buying fuels with a heftier greenhouse gas footprint than traditional petroleum.

The Air Force, which has a history of supporting liquid coal, continued testing as part of an exemption in Section 526 for research and development, a move that seems like a waste of taxpayer dollars given that the DoD has long objected to the use of these dirtier and more expensive synthetic fuels. Kevin Geiss, the Air Force’s deputy assistant secretary for energy, said: “I am not going to discount that a technology may be developed that could provide a synthetic fuel that meets 526 … if [it] were, then there would not be a prohibition.”


The GOP is continuing use ideological politics to threaten the military’s ability to save lives and money with these crucial investments in smarter energy use. As NRDC and TPGreen pointed out recently, the Tea Party-dominated House of Representatives has attached a slew of riders on various budget bills to cut this important part of the military’s clean energy program:

HIGH-CARBON FUELS: A rider in the Agriculture appropriation (Sec. 749), the Military Construction appropriation (Sec. 417), and the Energy and Water appropriation (Sec. 616) offered by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) would reverse Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act and allow the federal government to purchase dirtier fuels for its vehicles. The rider says the government can buy fuels like liquid coal even though current law forbids purchasing alternative fuels that emit more carbon pollution than conventional fuels do.