Military Pursuit of Clean Energy is a Logistical, Operational Necessity

For the past decade, the U.S. military has developed tactical, logistical and operational strategies with the belief that climate change is real and will be a growing source of conflict around the world. At the same time, the Pentagon has put considerable planning and resources into implementing renewable energy systems, a push in technology that has benefited the armed force’s fighting capability and flexibility, while boosting the private sector, as well.

Interestingly, the Defense Department has said that its development of renewable energy alternatives has little to do with climate change.

“The military isn’t doing this to be tree-huggers,” said a former naval commander who also served in the Navy Department’s office of Energy, Installations and Environment. It’s a matter of pragmatism. Clean energy alternatives improve mission capability. They increase the readiness and reach of U.S. forces.

However, there has been longstanding opposition in Congress to the military’s pursuit of renewable energy development from lawmakers representing oil-rich states and those who conflate the Defense Department’s clean energy focus with climate change – a topic that draws criticism from a number of lawmakers who reject the scientific consensus that global temperatures are increasing and weather patterns are growing more volatile.

The opposition to the military’s pursuit of energy innovation is mostly political, as evidenced by a recent letter to lawmakers in support of an amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The proposed amendment would reverse an Obama administration executive order that calls for the reduction of each federal agency’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next decade from 2008 levels and increases the share of electricity the federal government uses from renewables to 30 percent. The NDAA is an annual measure that dictates much of the Pentagon’s policy parameters.

Because the amendment was aimed at the NDAA, the letter specifically targeted the requirements the 2015 executive order places on the U.S. military. The letter authors – Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by Koch brother-related groups; the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute; the Heartland Institute; the oil-industry supported American Energy Alliance; and the Tea Party Nation – claim that requiring the armed forces to engage in green energy programs, carbon emission reduction efforts and the placement of low- and zero-emission vehicles into the military’s fleet “undermine military readiness by diverting scarce resources.”

Military officials and planners at the Pentagon, however, know that transitioning the U.S. armed forces – one of the world’s largest consumers of energy and the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world – to sustainable, domestically produced sources of electricity and transportation fuels is an important step needed to insure the military’s readiness in times of conflict.

Despite increases in domestic production, the military’s dependence on oil to power everything from tanks to fighter jets to Humvees to generators, continues to be identified as a national security threat because of the potential threats to supply in what is a geopolitically-influenced oil market. Also, the installation of wind, solar and biomass energy systems to help power military bases increases protection against cyberattacks and other threats to the broader grid. Furthermore, military investments in energy efficiency measures are saving millions of dollars in energy costs each year, enhancing energy independence, fostering more reliability in existing energy systems, and reducing impacts to the environment.

Lawmakers must understand that these policies are driven by the military’s mission to be battle-ready through the diversification of operational energy resources and the development of distributed energy sources that can improve military installation resilience and security.

Enough did understand the military’s strategy last week – the amendment supported by the conservative groups did not make it into the NDAA passed out of the House Appropriations Committee. But the amendment’s sponsors have not ruled out an effort to try again during floor debate on the defense policy measure or other related legislation to be considered by Congress.

One source of support for the military’s green energy policies – and it is an important one – is Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine general who formerly headed the U.S. Central Command and held battlefield commands in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mattis tends to hold a different opinion of renewable energy from others in the Trump administration, arguing that the Defense Department “should explore alternate and renewable energy sources that are reliable, cost effective, and capable of relieving the dependence of deployed forces on vulnerable fuel supplies.” Mattis knows the policies are about the mission, “to increase the readiness and reach of our forces.”

The 25x’25 Alliance urges stakeholders to call on lawmakers and share with them what military leaders, including Secretary Mattis, have long known: Efforts to prevent the military from pursuing the best means to carry out its mission undermines our national security.

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