Fourth of July Fireworks: Military Fights for Energy Independence, but Congress Might Stand in the Way

As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, some members of Congress are intent on prolonging our dependence--on fossil fuels. At a time when we should be promoting American progress, some of our Congressional representatives are trying to hold America back by rebuffing the efforts of the U.S. military to move toward cleaner forms of energy. 

The military's goal, first and foremost, is to be an effective fighting force. For years, our armed forces have been at the forefront of technological innovation in a number of fields, developing battlefield technologies for improved communication, medical care, and transportation-- innovations like the Internet, GPS, and others that proved to be game-changers in the private sector as well. In the same fashion, the military has been leading the way on new energy resources, deploying alternatives to the fossil fuels that threaten our national security, hurt our economy and endanger our health. "We're doing this for one reason," said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. "To be better war fighters."

The U.S. Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of fuel in the whole world; its fuel purchases often support nations whose interests are hostile to ours. Our dependence on oil puts soldiers’ lives at risk. Yet the House of Representatives just voted to essentially ban the Department of Defense from purchasing biofuels until they get to the point where they’re cheaper than fossil fuels--even though DOD routinely invests in emerging technologies that it needs to hasten them toward commercial viability. That’s how we got the Internet. The Senate Armed Services Committee also has voted to obstruct DOD’s pursuit of advanced biofuels. After the full Senate returns from the Fourth of July recess, it will consider whether these harmful provisions will become law.

The military's use of clean energy is cutting edge, helping power ships, planes and soldiers in the field, as well as fueling economic growth and job creation here at home. Navy and Air Force jets are already flying on a biofuel blend that comes from plants--a fuel that's made, from field to factory, in America. The Army is working with American entrepreneurs to develop powerful steam engines that run on biodiesel, and are strong enough to move tanks. The Marine Corps is looking at plant-based fuels to power personnel carriers and generators in remote locations. Military bases are looking to solar and wind power to meet their local energy needs, and to advanced vehicles that reduce oil demand.

The military's interest in biofuels and other forms of renewable energy has nothing to do with politics or polar bears. "There is not a shred of political correctness" to it, Vice-Admiral Dennis McGinn told Scientific American. It's about saving lives, saving money, and protecting America's national security.

Congressional bans on biofuels could just be the tip of the iceberg. Other renewable energy programs that make good military sense could be on the chopping block if partisans in Congress get their way. Military leaders, past and present, have clearly expressed an operational need for fossil fuel alternatives, and are working hard to develop them. Congress should join the military in moving America forward, instead of sounding a retreat.