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Congress Should Support Military Biofuels as Tools of National Defense | Commentary

By Shawn VanDiver Recently, President Barack Obama doubled down on his commitment to addressing climate change as a serious national security threat with a speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s commencement, as well as another White House report on the subject. At the same time, many in Congress continue to reject the very premise that man-made climate change is a problem that we can or should attempt to solve — and worse than that, they’re taking legislative steps to counteract the work he and the military are doing on this critical issue.  

While the president was making the case for investments in renewable energy and praising the military for its early adaptation of climate mitigation policies both at home and abroad, the House of Representatives has been doing exactly the opposite. Nestled away in the misleadingly-named America COMPETES Reauthorization Act is a provision that would torpedo cooperation between the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, and Energy on biofuels for the military. This collaboration, which has been an ongoing effort since 2011 to get the most powerful armed forces in the world running on cleaner and sustainable fuel, is making great progress; it defies reason why some seem insistent on stopping it now.  

The United States military is the largest global consumer of oil, which has serious financial implications; the military’s ledger changes by several decimal points when the global price of oil goes up or down. Even more critically, though, this fossil-fuel dependence puts lives at risk for American military personnel around the globe on a regular basis. The military recognizes these things, and that’s why some of the biggest proponents of renewable and sustainable energy sources walk the halls of the Pentagon.  

During my 12 years in the Navy, I spent a great deal of time on a ship defending two major oil terminals off the coast of Iraq. Almost every day, there were attempted attacks and perimeter penetrations, which meant that almost every day, American lives were at risk to protect foreign oil exports. Too many of my brothers and sisters at arms have risked their lives on fuel convoys in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of them lost their lives there.  

In short, the military doesn’t have the luxury of playing politics with national security. It doesn’t pick and choose the threats to respond to, but rather tackles every challenge by developing whatever resources needed to get the job done. Congress is normally all for giving the military the tools it needs to keep our nation safe, and it is unclear to me why it would make an exception for innovative biofuels that would decrease our dependence on oil and keep our men and women out of harm’s way on convoys and coastlines alike.  

The good news is that the House is clearly in the minority on this issue. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development released its version of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act last week. As this version of the bill moves forward, those in Congress who are serious about national security must be vigilant in ensuring that the military biofuels provision remains unaltered. And to be frank, the rest of our legislators should get in line sooner rather than later, because the effects of climate change and oil dependence are coming — whether we prepare for them or not.  

Shawn VanDiver is a Navy veteran and co-director of the Truman National Security Project San Diego Chapter. 

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