Department of Defense on Section 526: Don't Change a Thing
These days, Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 receives a great deal of attention. This provision, which prevents federal government from purchasing high carbon alternative fuels such as liquid coal, has been subject to numerous efforts to repeal it. Opponents to Section 526 argue that it diminishes military readiness by blocking the Defense Department’s (DoD) unrestricted access to carbon intensive fuels. But here is the big problem: last week, the DoD itself strongly rebuffed those arguments when it stated that “The existing law has not, in any way, prevented the department from meeting its current mission needs.”As my colleague Liz Barratt-Brown notes, the experts at the Department of Defense believe that Section 526 serves a critical national security service. Indeed, referring to an amendment to block implementation of Section 526, DoD said this:
“DoD opposes this provision [to defund Section 526] because the Department supports the goals and intent behind the current law. This exemption could further increase America's reliance on non-renewable fuels. Our dependence on those types of fuels degrades our national security, negatively impacts our economy, and harms our planet. This exemption would also send a negative signal to America's advanced biofuel industry and could result in adverse impacts to U.S. job creation, rural development efforts, and the export of world leading technology.”[i]
Clearly, DoD’s official statement is the authoritative position since the department understands readiness and its own energy needs best. But numerous military and security experts have also spoken in favor of Section 526, reinforcing DoD’s current position. Statements from prominent military figures include:
- Retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn (U.S. Navy) stating that "There is no compelling rationale for changing 526. Zero."[ii]
- Retired Lt. General Seip (U.S. Air Force) stating that "the carbon emissions from those [fossil] fuels are causing climate change which is a global security threat multiplier" and that "Removing Section 526 would be a step backward for U.S. security and clean energy innovation."[iii]
- Tom Hicks, the U.S. Navy Deputy Assistant Secretary on Energy stating that "We are comfortable with 526...It is an effective policy tool, it is having an effect on the market that I think is one in the right direction."[iv]
- Navy Director of Operational Energy Chris Tindal stating that Section 526 is an effective tool for steering the market toward clean fuels because it signals a stable demand to those companies.[v]
These military leaders have sound reasons for supporting Section 526. For years, security experts have warned of the destabilizing effects of climate change. They worry that severe weather incidents, humanitarian crises and increased resource competition could drive instability in vulnerable parts of the world. By extension, high carbon fuels that accelerate climate change will exacerbate these risks.
- In 2008, the National Intelligence Council noted that “As climate changes spur more humanitarian emergencies, the international community’s capacity to respond will be increasingly strained. The United States, in particular will be called upon to respond. The demands of these potential humanitarian responses may significantly tax US military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture and decreased strategic depth for combat operations."[vi]
- In 2008, the National Intelligence Council also found that "A number of active coastal military installations in the continental United States are at a significant and increasing risk of damage, as a function of flooding from worsened storm surges in the near-term. In addition, two dozen nuclear facilities and numerous refineries along US coastlines are at risk and may be severely impacted by storms."[vii]
- In 2009, the Center on Naval Analysis found that "Destabilization driven by ongoing climate change has the potential to add significantly to the mission burden of the U.S. military in fragile regions of the world" and that "the U.S. should not pursue energy options inconsistent with the national response to climate change."[viii]
- In 2010, the Pentagon Quadrennial Defense Review stated that although "climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. In addition, extreme weather events may lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response both within the United States and overseas."[ix]
These observations make clear that climate change, national security and fuel consumption are inextricably linked. Section 526 provides balance between them, preventing blind pursuit of fuel supply from undermining other import national concerns. In doing so, it sends the signal that new fuel technologies must anticipate the range of challenges that will define the coming decades. The Department of Defense understands this and supports Section 526. We should listen to our military leaders and preserve this forward looking provision that protects our national security and environment.
[vi] June 25, 2008: House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence & House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming: Statement for the Record by Dr. Thomas Fingar, Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis - National Intelligence Assessment on the National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030.