Leadership for an Innovative, Green, and Secure Energy Future
Over the past few months, President-elect Trump has nominated climate change doubters to lead the U.S. in advancing energy and climate security. Former Governor Rick Perry stands to take control of the Department of Energy — a department he proposed to eliminate in a 2011 Republican primary debate despite not recalling its actual name. He also has close ties to the fossil fuel industry given his role as a board director at both Energy Transfer Partners LP and Sunoco Logistics Partners LP. However, Perry has supported the growth of wind energy in Texas, and so there is hope that as Secretary of Energy, he will continue to support the expansion of the renewable energy market across the U.S.
In this new role, Perry could expand the importance of DOE as an essential government department. The DOE explores the intersection of national security and nuclear science as well as designs and safeguards the U.S. arsenal of nuclear weapons. About 60 percent of DOE’s budget goes to the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is tasked with examining the military application of nuclear science. DOE also promotes research, development, and deployment of renewable energy technologies and overall grid resiliency. Overall, DOE aims to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.
Hopefully Perry understands that national security greatly depends upon advanced clean energy technologies and reduced reliance upon fossil fuels. For instance, the ability of the Department of Defense to carry out its various missions and to meet its daily operational needs relies heavily on the volatile global oil market. Each year, the U.S. spends $84 billion to protect the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the entire world’s oil is shipped. Securing oil supply lines like these and across the Middle East puts the lives of servicemen and women at risk, and the human costs are even higher in active warzones: in Afghanistan in 2009, one in every 24 fuel convoys resulted in a casualty.
Plus, the servicemen and women themselves carry combat gear weighed down with specialized batteries for devices like GPS, radios, and night vision goggles. This extra weight slows them down in critical moments when lives are on the line. Using standardized, high-efficiency batteries or solar paneled rucksacks instead will lighten packs and extend mission capabilities at home and abroad. In regard to the troops’ vehicles, DOD has already stocked the Army’s fleet with 30,500 alternative fuel and high efficiency vehicles as of 2015. Such advanced clean energy technologies are no stranger to DOD; in January 2015 it received over $1 billion to fund 107 projects dedicated to increased energy efficiency. These technologies that DOE and DOD have implemented are critical to the nation’s successes, and such innovative thinking is necessary to promote a new energy future.
The needs for these energy security initiatives that aim to increase national security are also underscored by climate change. DOD has long described climate change as a “threat multiplier,” given that rising temperatures, resource scarcities, and more frequent extreme weather events hit fragile states around the world the hardest. This is because it is often the U.S. military that is called upon to lead the global response to natural disasters and prevent violent extremists from taking advantage of the chaos. For example, after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in November 2013, U.S. Marines were one of the first to respond, along with 15 USAID disaster response specialists and 9,000 military personnel. Financially, the U.S. has donated more than $37 million to provide humanitarian aid in the form of shelter, hygiene kits, food, and water.
The United States itself is also susceptible to climate change. Sea level rise, drought, and hurricanes impact our communities at home, and the U.S. military is always called on to respond first in this time of need. To make U.S. bases more resilient, the Department of the Navy in particular has committed to having 50 percent of total energy consumption come from alternative sources by 2020. Such increased use of energy efficient and clean energy technologies at military bases directly benefits the local community by providing a surplus of energy back to the local grid.
As Secretary of Energy, Perry stands in a position to promote a continuation of community-strengthening, clean energy innovations and jobs by encouraging the advancement of wind and solar in all 50 states as well as improving energy efficiency standards and distributed grid technologies.
U.S. dependency on fossil fuels puts the lives of our servicemen and women at risk, costs billions of dollars to maintain, and threatens our national security. Meanwhile, clean energy technologies have lightened the combat gear on the backs of troops, advanced operational capability, and encouraged further exploration into technology that is more reliable and efficient precisely because it functions on clean energy.
All of this, however, depends on incoming Energy Secretary Perry understanding and supporting the value of DOE: using proven, extensive research by expert scientists and real-life experiences of the military and national labs to enhance national security and promote jobs with clean energy technologies.
Julia Prochnik is a Political Partner and a co-chair of the energy group at the Truman National Security Project. Views expressed are her own.