Time for Congress to Back Military Energy Diversity
When I first came to Congress in 2013, the then-Commandant of the Marines, General John Amos, asked to meet. I presumed he’d want to talk to me about funding for more firepower, the latest equipment and better training, or smarter technology. Imagine my surprise when he walked into my office and said: “Congressman, I want to talk to you about solar energy.”
More than 3,000 American service members were killed or wounded in attacks on fuel convoys in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2003 and 2007.
As many in the military know too well, one of the most dangerous operations conducted on remote battlefields is moving large amounts of petroleum from one point to another. Our supply lines are key targets for our enemies; more than 3,000 American service members were killed or wounded in attacks on fuel convoys in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2003 and 2007. That threat also means we have to pull valuable, limited resources from combat missions and divert them to protecting convoys.
Our military deserves congressional support for its desire to invest in a diversified energy portfolio; it will save money and save lives. Some of that support could come through passage of the Department of Defense Energy Security Act (DODESA), legislation I reintroduced with support from several of my colleagues. DODESA will improve the operational and installation sides of the military’s energy platform, saving money, enhancing national security, and protecting our warfighters from needless harm.
Already, the Navy and Marine Corps have started to diversify away from petroleum. Marines on the ground are powering their positions with solar panels instead of generators. And they are utilizing solar panels on their packs to power equipment, and on tents to keep them cool. By lightening their loads and decreasing their vulnerability, it makes them more efficient and durable fighters. The Navy is investing in algae and biofuels to power its ships and planes. Having drop-in ready, alternative fuel options for commanders provides them with a greater range of resources for executing their missions and protects our budgets from spikes in world-wide fuel commodity prices. Next year, the Navy is scheduled to fully deploy its “Great Green Fleet,” a carrier strike group powered by a 50/50 mix of petroleum and biofuels. Whether on the ground, at sea, or in the air, these changes are about more than logistical convenience, they are an operational necessity for any forward-thinking military force.
Diversifying our military’s energy supply isn’t some pipe dream touted solely by the environmental community or ideological politicians; it is a feasible solution and a top priority for military leaders. They view it as a national security imperative that will improve mission readiness and save American lives. That alone is enough reason to earn the support of the American people and their government.
General Amos is far from the only top military leader to come out in support of these investments. The most recent Quadrennial Defense Review released by top generals and admirals at the Department of Defense in 2014 noted that “Energy improvements enhance range, endurance, and agility, particularly in the future security environment.”
We also know that this strategy will bring significant economic benefits, because as we’ve seen with GPS and the Internet, often investments in military innovation are investments that translate to the private sector. In this case, that means a fast-growing alternative energy sector that has been providing hundreds of thousands of jobs already, with a terrific track record of hiring veterans after they leave the military.
In the near term, fossil fuels are, and will continue to be, the overwhelming choice for powering equipment, vehicles, aircraft, and naval vessels. What DODESA will do is augment this operational reality and give our warfighters what they need by streamlining and incentivizing energy efficiency research. It will tackle supply chain vulnerabilities by investigating fuel-reduction methods for tactical vehicles, and increase readiness by supporting micro-grid developments that allow military bases to move off of volatile civilian energy grids. Most important, it will signal to our military leaders that Congress is ready and willing to act on their feedback and provide them with the tools that they need to successfully fulfill our country’s national security needs.
Looking towards the future, “alternative energy” and “fuel efficiency” should not be partisan fighting words. Energy security is national security, and we cannot compromise on either. A commitment by Congress and the Pentagon to promote military energy security will make our country more secure, save money and military lives, benefit our environment, and create high-quality jobs in the United States along the way.
Congressman Peters represents the 52nd District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives, which comprises the cities of Coronado, Poway, and much of San Diego. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He can be found on Twitter at @RepScottPeters.