Military shouldn’t be over a barrel on fuel
As families across America are all too aware, the price at the gasoline pump can swing wildly due to political unrest or conflict thousands of miles away. When I’m traveling my home state of Colorado, I hear story after story about how increased energy costs are hitting families hard at a time when they can least afford it.
Those stories have motivated me to encourage my colleagues to pursue an all-of-the-above approach to energy. From promoting the development of natural gas resources to embracing the potential of wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies, I believe comprehensive energy reform is critical to our economic recovery and future prosperity.
The rising and unpredictable cost of energy also can take a steep toll on our armed forces. Our military consumes more than 300,000 barrels of oil every 24 hours, and when the price per barrel goes up by a single dollar, the annual Pentagon budget jumps by more than $130 million — and the barrel price has risen $72 since 2001.
It isn’t just the cost in dollars that hurts our military. Our current fuel-supply lines are extremely vulnerable to attack, and our military has suffered more than 3,300 casualties over the past decade from attacks on fuel convoys. Osama bin Laden reportedly called such fuel convoys our military’s “umbilical cord.” Other terror leaders undoubtedly share that view.
With unpredictable costs and the dangerous implications of our dependence on oil, it is clear to me that alternative energy is not only good for our economy — but it also strengthens our national security.
It is for this reason that I have been a strong advocate for enhancing our military’s pursuit of alternative fuels. Alternative energy sources such as biofuels, tactical solar arrays and state-of-the-art batteries save lives by reducing the number of convoys and resupply missions in combat zones. In fact, Marines who had recently returned from Afghanistan told me that using portable solar technology allowed them to shed 10 to 15 pounds of batteries from their packs — dead weight they were able to replace with critical ammunition and supplies.
Our military leaders recognize that saving energy saves lives, and I want to ensure that we maintain funding for technology that protects our troops, increases their fighting capabilities, and reduces our dependence on foreign oil.
For centuries our military has been on the technological cutting edge, but recent moves by the U.S. House of Representatives call into question Congress’ commitment to making sure our armed forces are the most advanced in the world. Just last week, a House committee voted to limit the funds available for the military to procure advanced alternative fuels that are ready for use today.
Simply put, this is unacceptably shortsighted and driven by the worst kind of election-year politics.
Our nation’s energy security need not be political. I was proud last year that a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers passed a few of my provisions on energy security and the military’s use of clean energy, which President Barack Obama later signed into law.
Not allowing the military to pursue alternative fuel sources leaves our defense budget and our national security in the dark ages. An addiction to volatile supply lines allows foreign governments, such as Iran, to hold our military and our budget hostage.
That is why I am working to support the Department of Defense’s efforts to research, develop, test and evaluate new energy technologies. We have been justified in spending billions of dollars to develop new vehicles, armor and sensor technology to keep our troops safe. Why not work to take advantage of state-of-the-art tools and fuels that break our addiction to foreign sources of oil? If we have any hope of maintaining our strategic and technological advantage over our adversaries and economic rivals, we must not accept the status quo.
The United States has always maintained its strategic superiority in the world by refusing to be satisfied with old technology. Our energy policy — for consumers at home and our military — should take the same approach. It is time that Congress and my colleagues in the House recognize that choosing between energy security and national security is a false choice — they go hand in hand. We need to invest in 21st-century fuel sources so our military and our country remain ahead of the curve in the 21st century and beyond.
Mark Udall, a Democrat, is the senior senator for Colorado. He serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.