The ideological war against renewable energy

 

This blog's headline may sound hyperbolic. But I'm not sure how else to interpret Republicans' latest congressional hijinks. A couple weeks ago, the House passed a Defense budget that prohibits the department from using or experimenting with alternative fuels that are more costly than oil -- which they all are -- unless those fuels are derived from coal or natural gas. How's that for non-sensical favoritism? Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee followed suit, approving amendments to the Defense budget introduced by Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe and Arizona Sen. John McCain barring the military from purchasing alternative fuels with higher price tags than conventional fossil fuels, and stopping the Defense Department from building its own biofuels refinery. Coal state Democrat Joe Manchin, W.V., and Virginia Democrat Jim Webb, who has bucked his party to protect Big Oil subsidies, joined Republicans in voting for the amendments.

Yes, that would be the same John McCain who, oh so many moons ago, was a champion for federal climate change policy. And yes, that would be the military that he, the Senate's chief science skeptic, and their House colleagues are defying. Isn't that illegal or something? 

The military has made an impressive push in recent years to diversify and clean up its power and fuel supplies. It's built utility-scale solar installations at its bases to protect itself from outages or attacks on the regular grid (though achieving total independence from the grid has proved complicated). It's made its combat operations lighter and more efficient with things like solar battery chargers and energy efficient light bulbs, reducing costs and the need for supply convoys, which have been the victims of frequent attacks in Afghanistan. And it's begun researching alternative fuels, to reduce its fleets' vulnerability to volatile oil prices.

Republican opponents of this last effort decry it in the name of fiscal discipline. Indeed, experimental biofuels are many times more expensive than good ol' gasoline. But should any of the fuels the military is researching and testing prove viable, the market they -- as the single thirstiest oil guzzler in the world -- could create would drive prices for those alternative fuels down. Would that shift make the fuels economical for them, or even you and I? Maybe, maybe not. But as Slate's Fred Kaplan points out, "some of modern history’s most revolutionary devices started out as too expensive; and they would have stayed that way -- they might never have got off the ground -- had the federal government not created the market. And since, in American politics, the military and space programs have been the federal government’s only sources of manufacturing, it’s the Pentagon and NASA that have created those markets."

Plus, it's hard to see the Republicans' concern for the bottom line as genuine when you consider the exemptions for coal-to-liquid fuels and natural gas, and that the House Defense budget overshoots a compromise budget between President Obama and Republicans by $8 billion and calls for the "construction of a missile defense site on the East Coast that the military opposes," according to the AP.

The Defense Department also opposes Congressional efforts to tie its hands on alternative fuels. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations for the Navy, wrote this to the Senate committee, according to Science Insider: "While the Navy does not intend to purchase alternative liquid fuels for operational use until they are price competitive with petroleum-based fuels, the Navy needs flexibility to continue the testing and certification of all potential alternative fuel pathways to ensure the Navy has an 'off-ramp' from conventional fuel sources. ... I believe this will impede America's energy security."

Of course, it's not really the military that Inhofe, McCain or House Republicans are after. It's Obama.
“(Defense) Secretary (Leon) Panetta’s commitment of a billion dollars for alternative fuels makes clear that, despite President Obama’s recent change in rhetoric for his reelection campaign, he remains fully determined to implement his all-out attack on traditional American energy development -- and the military is one place where he can force it to happen,” Inhofe said in a speech on the Senate floor earlier this month.

In the interest of considering facts in this debate, however, let me remind you that the military's green makeover is not Obama's creation. It was George W. Bush who first directed the military to reduce its energy consumption and add more renewables to the mix.

Cally Carswell is HCN's assistant editor.

Photo: President Obama gives a speech about energy and solar power at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Courtesy Nellis Air Force Base 

High Country News Classifieds
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    New Mexico Land Conservancy (Santa Fe, NM), Stewardship Coordinator - Seeking highly motivated individual with excellent interpersonal skills to coordinate stewardship activities and support conservation...
  • 40-ACRE LAMBORN MOUNTAIN RETREAT, PAONIA, CO
    One-of-a-kind gem borders public lands/West Elk Wilderness. Privacy, creek, spring, irrigation, access. $270,000. Info at https://hcne.ws/LambornMT or call 970-683-0588 or 970-261-5928.
  • RECRUITMENT & HIRING MANAGER WITH WRA
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a dynamic, organized, and creative person with great people skills to be our Recruitment & Hiring Manager to recruit...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ATTORNEY (NM) AND POLICY ASSOCIATE/ANALYST (AZ & NV)
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is looking for a variety of positions around the West with our Clean Energy Program. Currently we are hiring a Staff...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HAWKWATCH INTERNATIONAL
    We are seeking an experienced dynamic leader for a growing conservation organization; $65,000-75,000 salary plus benefits; job description and apply at hawkwatch.org/executivedirector
  • FRIENDS OF THE INYO IS HIRING FOR THE SUMMER OF 2019
    Friends of the Inyo is excited to post our seasonal job offerings for the summer of 2019! We are hiring Trail Ambassadors, Stewardship Crew Members,...
  • DONOR RELATIONS MANAGER
    This position is responsible for the identification and qualification of major and planned gift prospects and assists in cultivating and soliciting donors through meetings, trips,...
  • STREAMFLOW RESTORATION IMPLEMENTATION LEAD (ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNER 4)
    Keeping Washington Clean and Evergreen Protecting Washington State's environment for current and future generations is what we do every day at Ecology. We are a...
  • SENIOR STORMWATER ENGINEER (ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEER 5)
    Keeping Washington Clean and Evergreen Our Water Quality Program is looking to hire a Senior Stormwater Engineer at our Headquarters building in Lacey, WA This...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, family farms, challenging politics, and big conservation opportunities? Do you have leadership abilities, experience with rural land protection,...
  • MAJOR GIFT OFFICER
    University of Wyoming Foundation Haub School of ENR, Biodiversity Institute, Environmental/Natural Resource Programs https://uwyo.taleo.net/careersection/00_ex/jobdetail.ftl?job=19001001&tz=GMT-06:00
  • MONTANA LAND STEWARD
    The Montana Land Steward develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans, and methods related to TNC's property interest portfolio in Montana. For more information and...
  • RAISER'S EDGE DATABASE ADMINISTRATOR
    POSITION DESCRIPTION: RAISER'S EDGE DATABASE ADMINISTRATOR The Raiser's Edge Database Administrator ensures the integrity and effectiveness of the member/donor database by developing systems and processes...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    We are hiring a Director of Development Full time, competitive pay and benefits. Location: Bozeman,MT Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for details GYC is an equal opportunity employer
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Arizona Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic Marketing and Communications Director. Please see the full job description at https://azwildlife.org/jobs
  • 3 POSITIONS: ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR, AND FOREST PROGRAMS ASSOCIATE
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) in Durango and Silverton, CO is hiring 3 staff: Please visit mountainstudies.org/careers for Assoc Director, Dev and Engagement Director, and Forest...
  • CENTER FOR COLLABORATIVE CONSERVATION DIRECTOR, COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY
    The Center for Collaborative Conservation is hiring a full-time, permanent Director. Applications are due on March 31. Description can be found at http://jobs.colostate.edu/postings/65118 No phone...
  • PROGRAM AND OUTREACH COORDINATOR
    Program and Outreach Coordinator - Dolores River Boating Advocates, a conservation and recreation minded non-profit based in Dolores, CO, is hiring a 20 hour/week Program...
  • CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER/DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a skilled non-profit leader to play a crucial role in protecting the greater Bears Ears landscape. Experience working with government...