Renewable Energy is Key to Military Strategy

Our military leaders have one paramount priority: keeping America safe.  The military identifies and confronts threats to America’s security.  As a part of that mission, the military recognizes that its reliance on fossil fuels poses a strategic threat. The Department of Defense is leading the way in developing clean, renewable sources of energy to provide secure supplies of energy for our warfighters.  Unfortunately, amendments introduced in the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY13 threaten to undercut our military’s strategy to keep America safe with clean, renewable energy.

These amendments shut the door on investments in clean, reliable fuels needed to keep America safe.  One, introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), would prevent purchases of fuel that are currently more expensive than the diesel fuel used in nearly all military vehicles and generators.  Another, introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), would prevent the Department of Defense from constructing their own biofuels refineries.  The military has been investing in advanced biofuels because military leaders recognize that being beholden to global oil markets makes us vulnerable to unstable and unfriendly regimes.  Those investments are paying off: the Navy predicts that advanced biofuels will be cost competitive with fossil fuels by 2020 if the military continues to invest.

Rep. Conaway would also exempt the Department of Defense from Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which ensures that the Department consider all relevant factors in purchasing fuels.  The Department of Defense opposes any exemption from Section 526, stating that repeal or exemption “could hamper the Department’s efforts to provide better energy options to warfighters and further increase America’s reliance on non-renewable fuels.”

The U.S. military is the largest institutional consumer of fuel in the world, accounting for 2% of our nation’s petroleum use and 93% of the U.S. government’s energy use.  For every $10 rise in the price of oil, the Department of Defense must come up with an extra $1.3 billion annually, which must be diverted from training, maintenance, and other mission-essential items in the DoD budget.  That means our reliance on oil directly threatens the readiness of our troops.

The military has a strategy to confront its reliance on oil.  Growing fuels at home instead of importing them from abroad protects against price spikes in oil markets.  Harnessing solar and wind energy to power military bases helps ensure bases don’t go dark if our fragile electric grid is damaged.  Solar panels on remote forward operating bases reduce the number of dangerous fuel convoys needed to resupply troops on the front lines.  Members of Congress should support the energy security strategy of our military leaders, and put America’s security above shortsighted politics.

Michael Wu is Truman's Advocacy Policy Director.