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Greening the Pentagon

Who says the Pentagon's green-energy initiatives are politically motivated? An exchange.

2.14.13

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A conservative think tank recently published a book claiming that the military's clean energy efforts are the sinister machinations of green activists and put our troops at risk. As reviewed in The American Spectator, Kevin Mooney purports that commanders are implementing energy conservation and renewable energy measures to protect their jobs even though they might put their soldiers at risk. As a former soldier and a former commander, I take exception with this crass characterization of careerists who would put their most sacred trust at risk for advancement. 

First, the decision to strengthen the Department of Defense's (DOD) energy security posture began long before the current administration. In 2000, under the Bush administration, the Defense Science Board reported that DOD's unnecessarily high fuel use resulted in greater vulnerability and cost to the force. The Board recommended that DOD make acquisition decisions on the real cost of fuel, provide leadership incentives for fuel efficiency, and seek out fuel efficiency programs to reduce the cost of operations and vulnerability to the force. The events of September 11th changed the focus for DOD and the recommendations were not acted upon. 

After six years of war and growing casualties associated with fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration ordered another look at the consequences of military fuel demand. In 2008 the Defense Science Board published the report entitled More Fight, Less Fuel which found two primary energy challenges:

1) Operations suffer from unnecessarily high and growing battlespace fuel demand which degrades capability, increases force balance problems, exposes support operation to greater risk than necessary, and increase life-cycle operations and support costs.

2) Military installations are almost completely dependent on a fragile and vulnerable commercial power grid, placing critical military and Homeland defense missions at unacceptable risk of extended outage. 


This time, DOD listened. Commanders in the field were demanding measures to enhance energy security and each of the Services took on the mission. The Army and Marine Corps reduced the number of dangerous fuel convoys needed to supply forward operating bases in Afghanistan and Iraq by using solar blankets and solar tents to power equipment. The Air Force invested in enhanced simulators to reduce the amount of fuel expended on training missions. And the Navy is providing needed leadership on the development of next-generation biofuels. It became part of the ethos that smart operations were energy efficient operations; that fuel efficient vehicles were more combat effective, and that renewable energy generation on large bases could reduce the vulnerabilities of a fragile grid. 

Diana Furchtgott-Roth's assertion that military officers are the willing tools of environmental groups is demonstrably false. The military is investing in clean energy technologies for one reason: to keep America safe. Unfortunately, the extent of Furchtgott-Roth's disingenuous claims are not limited to the nature of the military's clean energy investments.

Furchtgott-Roth casts aside the science of climate change as some progressive pipe dream and instead posits that the Obama administration's delay of the Keystone pipeline directly reduces military security by causing the U.S. to forego access to all that locally-produced oil. Yet, CIA and DOD studies of the impact of climate change on security predate the Obama administration. And petroleum from the Keystone pipeline wouldn't fuel our deployed military forces, since our forces fuel where they fight. It would instead flow to refiners in Louisiana, be sold to multinational oil companies, and likely be exported as diesel fuel to South America.

I am certain that I am more appalled by Furchtgott-Roth's low opinion of military commanders than I am with the poor presentation of weakly researched conclusions, but then again, I haven't read her book. Mr. Mooney's review was enough for me.
-- Col. Dan Nolan (ret.), US Army
The writer is author of DoD Energy Blog and an Operation Free Spokesperson.


Kevin Mooney replies:
I want to express my thanks and appreciation to retired Col. Nolan. The book authored by Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute is entitled: Regulating to Disaster: How Green Job Policies Are Damaging America’s Economy. Furchtgott-Roth includes a section that warns against the greening of the U.S. military and how damaging this is to our nation’s geopolitical standing. A point of clarification is in order as Col. Nolan claims we are somehow besmirching “careerists” in the Pentagon who are responsible for the troops in the field. The criticism is directed not at the U.S. military leadership, but at the political class.

If you read the chapter in question, it’s evident that that these policies are being coerced from on high, not embraced from within -- and there is good reason to be concerned. Contrary to what Col. Nolan tells readers, solar energy and other renewable power sources are intermittent, unsteady, and unreliable. It would seem that calculative enemies could plan accordingly if they know when the power is going to run out. Col. Nolan also points out that the reexamination of energy policy in the U.S. military began under President Bush, not President Obama. That’s fine, since greater fuel efficiency is always a laudable objective.

But let’s take just one policy change that should be reversed: Sec. 526 of Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which prevents the U.S. military from accessing fuel from the Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada. Here is what Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) wrote to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a letter dated May 2008:

 Section 526 is part of an effort to prevent the Air Force from procuring fuels from some of our nation’s most promising resources. Such a policy will increase America’s reliance on foreign oil. As we continue to face record oil and gasoline prices, Section 526 can be seen for what it is: a counterproductive measure that threatens our national security, our energy security and the strength of our economy.

If the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would stretch from the tar sands in Canada, to refineries in the southern U.S., does not come to full fruition, these resources will be developed by strategic competitors, won’t they? How is that good for the U.S. military and the U.S. economy?

Yet, Col. Nolan expresses cynicism toward the idea of using the Keystone Pipeline as a possible energy supply that could be directed back toward the U.S. military. He cites studies from CIA and the Defense Department. I’m not persuaded.

It’s important to note that the connection former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and others, make between climate change and national security is based in large part on computer models that have either been debunked or remain unproven.

The weight of evidence tells me that the threat to our military and our national security comes not from global warming or climate change per se, but from the anti-energy policies attached to the environmental agenda.

There’s a lot more to say here, and this is a topic I’ll revisit again in an upcoming article. For the moment, let me thank Col. Nolan again for his feedback, as this is a debate we should have. In the meantime, I would suggest that he read Regulating to Disaster.

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