LAWMAKERS TACKLING the National Defense Authorization Act are understandably focused on figuring out the dimensions of the president’s right to detain terrorism suspects and whether those suspects should be held in the mainland United States. But there’s another important issue that’s come under debate — the Defense Department’s investment in renewable-energy technologies. So far, the Pentagon’s biofuel efforts have survived two Senate challenges, which is good news for the Pentagon, the environment, and innovation.
For years, the Pentagon has been testing new sources of energy to decrease the military’s dependence on oil. As the world’s largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels, the Pentagon’s interest in new technologies helps create a market for clean energy. The military’s support for biofuel research is not merely a matter of good conscience, but also of good security policy, given the instability of oil prices and imports.
Senators James Inhofe and John McCain have tried to use the National Defense Authorization Act to stop any Pentagon programs utilizing biofuels; in addition, they hoped to prohibit the Pentagon from even being able to coordinate with the Energy and Agriculture departments toward biofuel advancement. Inhofe is an infamous global-warming skeptic, and McCain says he wants the Pentagon to be focused solely on war-fighting.
The attacks on the biofuel agenda failed, as both amendments were voted down. But the antagonism towards the Pentagon’s clean-energy initiatives remains, supported by a strong oil lobby that is sure to be harmed by energy diversification. The Pentagon had already determined that war-fighting would be better served by an alternative energy program. Dependence on a single fossil fuel source makes the existence and protection of supply chains essential. In other words, relying too heavily on oil ends up wasting oil. The Pentagon is right to look for other options.