Panetta Touts Pentagon Investments in Green Energy
By Sandra I. Erwin
The Defense Department sees climate change and rising oil prices as national security concerns, and intends to play a leading role in the nation’s energy future, said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.
In a May 2 speech to one of the nation’s top environmental advocacy groups, Panetta championed military efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption and to boost production of alternative sources of energy.
“We are working to be a leader and a bold innovator in environmental stewardship, energy efficiency and energy security,” Panetta said at a reception hosted in his honor by the Environmental Defense Fund at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
While the topic of climate change has been hugely politicized in recent years, Panetta cast the issue as a serious security crisis. “In the 21st century, we recognize that climate change can impact national security — ranging from rising sea levels, to severe droughts, to the melting of the polar caps, to more frequent and devastating natural disasters that raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” he said.
Reliance on oil supplies from the Middle East also has significant implications for the U.S. military, which has assumed responsibilities for securing strategic oil choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca. Analysts have estimated that, since 1980, the Pentagon has spent $65 billion to $85 billion a year protecting Middle East allies and ensuring the flow of petroleum to world markets.
“The quest for energy will also continue to shape, and reshape, the strategic environment — from the destabilizing consequences of resource competition to the efforts of potential adversaries to block the free flow of energy supplies,” Panetta said. “These strategic and practical considerations weighed heavily on us as we developed our new defense strategy.”
As the owner of 30 million acres of land and as one of the world’s largest energy consumers, the Defense Department has significant environmental stewardship responsibilities, said Panetta. “Our drive to be more efficient and environmentally sustainable has the potential to transform the nation’s approach to the challenges we are facing in the environment and energy security.”
Even in the absence of a national energy policy, the Pentagon plans to pioneer green technology. “We take the long-term view in everything we do, and have the ability to adopt new technologies,” Panetta said.
The Pentagon in fiscal year 2013 is requesting more than $1 billion for efficient aircraft and aircraft engines, hybrid electric drives for ships, improved generators and micro-grids for forward-deployed bases, and combat vehicle energy efficiency programs. Another $1 billion is sought for energy improvements at military installations in the United States. These efforts, Panetta said, will seek to “demonstrate next-generation energy technologies.”
The Army, Navy and Air Force have committed to producing at least 3 gigawatts of renewable energy at their installations in the coming years, which makes this “one of the largest commitments to clean energy in the nation’s history,” said Panetta.
The volatility of oil prices also adds to the urgency of the Defense Department’s energy agenda. The military now faces a $3 billion budget shortfall because of higher than expected fuel costs, Panetta said. “I have a deep interest in more sustainable and efficient energy options.” The Pentagon spent $15 billion last year on fuel for military operations.
On March 9, Panetta signed off on an ambitious plan to reduce fuel consumption across all branches of the military and to promote energy efficiency as a standard way of doing business. The plan sets seven specific targets for “transforming the way U.S. armed forces consume energy in military operations.”
These battlefield-focused energy initiatives aim to cut back on fuel demand in war zones as supply lines into Afghanistan increasingly have come under enemy attack. There are currently more than 400 U.S. forward-operating bases in Afghanistan that consume from 250 to 7,500 gallons of fuel per day depending on their size. Large bases go through up to 50,000 gallons of fuel per day. Overall, the U.S. military consumes 50 million of gallons per month in Afghanistan.
Panetta’s endorsement of fuel efficiency as a guiding principle in planning wars and building weapon systems has been welcome by supporters of renewable technologies and by energy-security hawks who worry that the United States is too vulnerable to oil supply shocks.
Over the past several months, however, the Pentagon’s green-energy initiatives have run into a wall of opposition from Republican lawmakers, who have questioned the need to spend defense dollars on renewable energy, and have called for more oil and gas drilling in the United States as a means to lower fuel costs. Congressional objections have centered on military biofuels programs. The Defense Department is seeking $300 million for biofuel research and development over the next five years.