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The Pentagon is stopped from going green

by JULIETTE KAYYEMBoston Globe
June 8th, 2012

Despite the fact that the Pentagon is the single biggest consumer of fossil fuels in the entire world, the Senate Armed Services Committee recently voted to prohibit the military from spending money “for the production or sole purchase of an alternative fuel.”

June 07, 2012

When a bunch of Birkenstock-wearing environmentalists clamor for cleaner energy alternatives ­ biofuels, solar, or wind ­ it’s not entirely a surprise when Senate Republicans scoff in response. But it is odd that when military leaders make the same recommendation, those same legislators don’t even budge. Much worse, they have now prohibited Big Green from going green.

When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifies before Congress next week, he will be waging an uphill battle to preserve the Pentagon’s energy-efficient programs. Despite the fact that the Pentagon is the single biggest consumer of fossil fuels in the entire world, the Senate Armed Services Committee recently voted to prohibit the military from spending money “for the production or sole purchase of an alternative fuel.”

The Senate committee, on a near-party line vote with Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jim Webb of Virginia voting with the Republicans, banned the Pentagon from buying alternative fuels or building any facilities to manufacture them “if the cost exceeds the cost of traditional fossil fuels used for the same purpose.” Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is for the prohibition; New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen is against it. Maine’s Susan Collins did not vote, claiming that she had to take an important call, but has promised to be with the Pentagon on any floor debate.

Fossil fuels are obviously cheaper than any alternatives to date; that is why, of course, we use them. But alternatives are getting competitive; in recent years, biofuels have gone from $400 a gallon to $26. And price should be only one barometer for a 21st century military. The military’s dependence on oil means not only that we will fight wars to protect our access to it, but that we will suffer in wars because of our insatiable appetite for it.

Fuel convoys are particularly subject to attack by hostile forces, and half of the Marines killed in Afghanistan and Iraq were supporting fuel transportation. Oil and water are the two commodities we import the most to the battlefield; the long line of a supply chain is a welcome mat for every IED and enemy. The biggest cost driver in the Pentagon’s shrinking budget is oil; fuel increases in 2011 and 2012 cost the government an extra $3 billion.

In addition, many of the military instruments that use fossil fuels are just plain noisy. And the constant hum of machinery is a battlefield liability. As one senior Pentagon official told me about threats in Afghanistan: “It’s amazing what you can hear when the generators are off.”


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