May 22, 2012

The Role of Clean Energy in Powering the U.S. Military

There is a good discussion going on at the National Journal this week on the role of clean energy in powering the U.S. military. The discussion comes on the heels of an effort by the House Armed Services Committee to constrain DOD’s ability to procure biofuels that are not cost competitive with conventional petroleum.

As I noted in the National Journal yesterday, recent congressional activity suggests to me that there is a bit of confusion about the military’s motivations to invest in biofuels. To be clear, these efforts are not, as some headlines suggest, for the sole purpose of combating climate change or promoting eco-friendly interests over military ones. Although being environmentally sustainable and promoting energy security are not mutually exclusive, it is important to understand first and foremost why the military is undertaking this effort: It is all about mission effectiveness and ensuring that our soldiers, sailors and airmen have access to the fuel they need to conduct their operations and protect U.S. interests. (Read more on this point here.)

Nevertheless, the rumblings on Capitol Hill suggest that the role of the military in advancing alternative energy solutions could be a chokepoint for congressional action as both chambers seek to reconcile their own versions of the 2013 Defense Authorization bill. Senator Mark Udall of Colorado weighed in on the National Journal discussion this morning, stating that “As the Senate Armed Services Committee marks up our version of the 2013 defense authorization bill this week, one of the key provisions under scrutiny will be how we approach the military’s use and development of alternative-fuel technologies.”

To that end, the National Journal discussion is an important and welcome one. The country should be having a public debate about the role of the military in advancing alternative energy solutions and clarify any uncertainty or misconceptions about what the military’s motivations are for advancing clean energy solutions. Simply put, it is first and foremost about preserving the military’s ability to protect U.S. national security interests by hedging against uncertainty around petroleum prices and supply, and ensuring that the military has the energy it needs to fuel the force.

Learn more about the challenges DOD faces with sustainable access to petroleum in our 2010 study, Fueling the Future Force

Follow the National Journal discussion here.