America's military planners and intelligence officials typically ignore the partisan politics that irrationally surrounds environmental concerns. Instead, they study scientific data and trends, gather facts and plan how to respond to the operational consequences of environmental changes.
In the interest of national security, they already are plotting ways to cope with the climate-change-induced rise of sea levels on naval bases and transport issues, for example. And under requirements of a 2007 law, they are working to develop and deploy renewable and alternative energy sources to reduce the military's dependence on massive use of imported petroleum for their facilities, planes, ships and vehicles of all sorts.
That is good for both the military and the country. For starters, it's bound to spur the introduction of new energy technologies, and ultimately to help drive down energy costs. Both are important: Every $10 rise in the price of crude oil adds another $1.3 billion to the military's $11 billion annual energy bill. And just as the space and aeronautical programs spurred a wave of knowledge and innovations that generated myriad civilian technologies and products, the military's intense exploration into alternative energy sources is bound to translate into valuable innovations with commercial and civilian applications.
Saving lives, and costs
Even more important is the potential for saving the lives of our troops. One out of eight U.S. Army casualties in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 resulted from guard duty for fuel convoys. One of the chief reasons for the invasion of Iraq, moreover, was to secure access to Iraq's huge oil reserves in the wake of Saudi Arabia's decision to get U.S. forces -- and influence -- out of its territory.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said several weeks ago that guarding fuel convoys in Afghanistan also has imposed a high cost in blood: one Marine's life for every 50 convoys. That's why the Marines have been investing heavily in portable solar blankets and panels to recharge batteries that traditionally require large convoys to fuel diesel generators, he said. New energy-efficient tactical generators in Afghanistan could save 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel a month.
Mabus also cited the vulnerability of sailors and ships when they are refueling, recalling the attack on the Navy destroyer, the U.S.S. Cole, which was bombed by al Qaida operatives when refueling off the coast of Yemen.
Yet strangely, Republicans are intensely focused on sabotaging the provision (Section 526) of a Bush-era law that directs the military to develop and deploy and clean alternative fuels produced in the United States.
The lobbying threat
Absent the political clout of rich oil and gas industry lobbyists for corporations that make a killing -- cruel pun intended -- off the higher prices associated with the nation's heavy use and of expensive imported crude oil, there is no rational reason for the GOP effort to eliminate the military's focus on cleaner, more secure alternative and renewable energy technologies.
The lobbying connection associated with the Republican effort to kill the law may well be because it also required the military -- the largest government purchaser of fuel -- to avoid use of fuels with a higher carbon footprint than petroleum, and that are associated with competition for food sources.
That would seem to prohibit the military, for example, from consuming fuel containing ethanol, which is based on corn and has caused the price of corn to double in the last several years. Ethanol production also consumes and wastes vast amounts of fresh water, and it's production clearly uses more fuel (for planting, fertilizing and harvesting corn) than its resulting volume of methanol returns.
The Republican push to kill Section 526 shows no signs of letting up, however. GOP members proposed five different riders, or attachments, to existing bills to kill Section 526 in recent weeks. They didn't survive, but lobbying to kill the section -- which was lauded by Republicans when it passed for its vital contribution to national security -- remains fierce.
Republicans should quit their efforts to appease oil industry and ethanol lobbyists. As former Gen. David Petraeus has said, development and use of alternative and renewable fuels -- from solar to wind to biofuels -- " will lighten the logistics burden, minimize tactical disruptions to the mission, and deny easy targets to the adversary (and) ... improve operational capability, reduce risk to our forces, and, ultimately, strengthen our security." With such great rewards, it makes no sense to make the military reverse course on alternative energy sources. But are Republicans listening?