June 29, 2009

Natural Security Issues on the Hill

Capitol_Hill.jpgOn Friday, the House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), but not without considerable effort. Though debates about F-22s and the economic merits of a cap-and-trade system will continue as both bills head to the Senate, it’s worth a moment to take a look at what the legislation could do to improve the natural security of the United States.

Provisions in the House version of the NDAA tackle the problem of greenhouse gas emissions head on. For starters, it authorizes the creation of a Director of Operational Energy, who would report directly to the Secretary of Defense and would review how the Department of Defense might better incorporate carbon-free, renewable fuels into its daily operations and broader strategic posture. The recommendations from the Director of Operational Energy, due no later than February 1, 2010, would address how combatant commanders, the heads of military branches, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff could use algae- and other biomass-based fuels for aviation, maritime, and ground transportation and to more widely power forward operating bases.

The House NDAA also addresses energy at a systems-wide level, calling for new measures on efficiency and renewables at military facilities. If the legislation makes it through the Conference Committee, it would mandate the adoption of energy monitoring and management systems for all military buildings, including family housing, in order to limit excess energy consumption. The bill also commissions a report on nuclear power for military bases and establishes a preference for the DOD to use hybrid or electric vehicles, so long as their price and function are commercially and operationally comparable.

Another equally important measure in the House NDAA is a detailed look at strategic minerals, specifically at potential vulnerabilities in defense supply chains of Rare Earth Materials, which are used for numerous defense technologies. Recognizing that deposits of these minerals are largely outside U.S. territory, the bill suggests that the DOD place greater emphasis on securing procurement of these vital alloys, stating “it is necessary, to the maximum extent practicable, to ensure the uninterrupted supply of strategic materials critical to national security.” No problems with that language here at the Natural Security Program.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act has been subject to more intense criticism. Yet, for all its critics across the political spectrum, its passage in the House is a watershed moment for the United States. By renewing the dialogue about energy and climate security and redefining the role of the United States in addressing global climate change, the United States has started to build momentum that will hopefully move the issue forward in Copenhagen in December. It might be too soon to weigh in substantively about ACES’ specifics—many complex provisions and figures have yet to change and must still overcome significant obstacles in the Senate—but getting the twin issues front and center and mainstreamed into political debate is quite a feat in and of itself.

As Congress prepares for the Independence Day recess, there is still much up in the air. But with any luck, when the Senate comes back from recess, hopefully there will be a little less CO2.

Photo: On Capitol Hill, both the National Defense Authorization Act and the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed in the House on Friday. Courtesy of flickr user wallyg.