This post was co-authored with Lt. Gen. Norman R. Seip, (USAF-RET)
Congress is debating the Defense Department authorization bill, the legislation that allocates the $700 billion needed to fund our military through 2012.
Wrapped deep in the legislation is an important issue we can all relate to – fuel costs. The DOD consumes 2 percent of the nation’s fuel, and fuel costs are among the military’s biggest expenses.
Regrettably, the issue of where and how the military gets its gas is lost amid more high-profile topics such as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, dirty energy industry groups have quietly launched a sneak attack to shoot down current initiatives designed to help wean the military off fossil fuels and move it toward cleaner domestic fuels.
That’s unfortunate, especially since moving to low-carbon alternative fuels could increase our national security, reduce our national debt, improve our environment and jump-start the nascent clean fuels industry – and in turn, our economy.
At the heart of the issue is Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act. Since 2007, the act has required any fuel used by the federal government to be no more carbon-intensive than gas and oil.
After recently meeting with senior Pentagon officials, we know that military leaders are clear on two things: Our fossil fuel dependence is a serious national security liability; and the carbon emissions from those fuels are causing climate change which is a global security threat multiplier.
That’s why all four branches of the military are seeking to reduce their use of fossil fuels and find low carbon alternatives to replace them.
Some in Congress, however, want to keep the military shackled to oil and gas – or even worse, push for experimental technology that would turn coal and tar sands into liquid fuels with significantly higher carbon and other emissions than oil and gas.
With coal-to-liquids in mind, the House just approved a bill that would exempt the DOD from Section 526.
Removing Section 526 would be a step backward for U.S. security and clean energy innovation.
No branch of the service is more acutely aware of this than the Air Force, the military’s biggest consumer of liquid fuels.
The Air Force has already set a goal of acquiring half of its domestic aviation fuel from alternative sources by 2016, and has many high-profile programs well underway.
Already, the Air Force has figured out how to fly A-10C jets on biofuel blends derived from a weed-like plant called camelina. It has tested F-15s that achieve supersonic speeds using a blend of fuel based on animal fats and oils.
Just as the DOD’s recent Quadrennial Defense Review predicted, the military’s expansion into alternative fuels is stimulating interest and investment from the private sector. Young companies with promising technologies are looking to the military as a possible first customer. Their products could be in high demand on the global market as well, and could make a big difference in our trade balance.
This is a great opportunity for the military and the government to serve as a catalyst for a new age of innovation that could do wonders for reviving our economy, improving our national security and reducing global warming.
On the other hand, repealing Section 526 will sidetrack the process already underway at the Pentagon and simultaneously shatter any semblance of certainty in the commercial marketplace. Repeal would discourage innovation and force the military in to a deepening dependence on dirty fossil fuels with a giant price tag in lives and treasure.
The military knows there are better options, and so does Congress.
They should preserve Section 526.
On this Memorial Day, let’s honor our armed forces by committing to a clean energy future. Nobody understands the need for this better than our men and women in uniform.
Lt. Gen. Norman R. Seip (retired USAF) was Commander, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.