The military's energy view

The military's energy view

July 24th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Republicans have made anti-environmentalism such a mainstay of their political rhetoric in recent years that it's entirely predictable in almost any circumstance. Consider how forcefully they now routinely oppose the EPA's regulatory budget, its enforcement of the Clean Water and Clean Air acts, the listings of industry's emissions of airborne toxins, and almost every effort to protect federal forests and national parks' borders from industrial encroachment. Still, it's unusual that they would now be trying to force the Defense Department to forsake its strategic policy of pursuing energy efficiency and cleaner alternative fuels.

But they are. Their latest environmental rollback initiative aims to gut a key section of the 2007 energy bill, Section 526, which prohibits federal agencies from purchasing alternative fuels that have higher life-cycle emissions of greenhouse gases, or GHG, than conventional fuels. Why? Because it supports the Defense Department's energy use policies, and Republicans think it's just wrong for the military to pursue a strategic policy of cleaner alternative fuels and reduced GHG emissions. They had rather have the military buying fuels from their lobbying pals and campaign supporters in the oil, gas and coal industries.

The coal industry, for example, wants to sell liquefied coal to the military, especially as electric utilities ramp up their switch from dirty coal to cleaner fuels. The oil and natural gas industries want so strongly to pursue access to more coastal oil fields that they're willing to give states a share of the revenue through legislation to repeal Section 526. And then there's a related push by lobbyists to get the military to buy fuel refined from Canada's coal-tar sands, a process, like liquefied coal, with GHG numbers that run heavily negative relative to convention fuel and clean alternative fuels.

The Department of Defense sees good reason to keep the spirit of Section 526 intact. It cites the nation's heavy reliance on imported oil - especially from the unstable Middle East - as a triple-whammy burden to the nation's strategic, security and economic interests. It adds risk to our national security, harms the environment and hurts the economy. Indeed, oil imports account for half the nation's trade deficit and the correspondingly huge outflow of dollars to states with interests inimical to the United States.

The DOD also recognizes the harmful effects of global warming due to the persistent rise in greenhouse gases, and the varied conflicts that will arise as the impact of global warming plays out. Food, water and resource shortages will rise, as will the concomitant cost of declining reserves of fossil fuels. These economic and resource pressures will spawn internal conflicts, wars over resources, heavier economic migration, and higher costs for energy and military intervention to richer nations.

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review confirms that view. Climate change, it notes, "may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world."

Given the rising problems with conventional energy sources, the military rightly recognizes that it's in our national interest for the military to pursue development and secure use of diverse, clean alternative energy and fuel sources, including solar, wind, advanced batteries and energy storage, ocean waves, geothermal, biomass and waste.

Republican adversaries, apparently bound to their lobbyists' fiction that climate change is bogus and fossil fuels are limitless, disagree. "Our nation's military should not be burdened with wasting time studying fuel emissions when there is a simple fix - and that is not restricting their fuel choices based on extreme environmental views, policies and regulations like Section 526," grumped Texas Republican Rep. Bill Flores, a cosponsor of the bill to eliminate Section 526.

If that were actually the view of the Defense Department's nonpartisan staff, it might have some credibility. But when the Defense Department's own generals warn of the bleak consequences of climate change, fuel shortages and related conflicts, and urge a more aggressive shift to energy efficiency and secure fuels, the Republicans' myopic and deeply politicized anti-environmentalism looks increasingly false and dangerous for our nation.