Friday, July 30, 2010

As Congress loses nerve, military leads on energy, climate

Shame, shame on Democrats and Republicans alike for taking a powder when handed an historic moment to enact long-range energy policies that also broadly tackle well-documented climate change.

The only plausible explanation for congressional cowardice is that too many members on both sides of the aisle simply knuckled to coal and petroleum interests that place profits above the national interest. The lame political excuse is that imposing and enforcing stricter energy efficiencies on producers would be an "energy tax" on consumers.

Nonsense. More efficient use of energy results in savings for consumers.

However, there's another, more serious benefit to improved energy efficiency, and the U.S. military is leading the way while Congress panders to the selfish, business-as-usual coal and fossil-fuel corporations.

From the Pentagon's top brass down through the uniformed ranks, cutting energy costs and reducing environmental damage that leads to climate change and subsequently affects national security is now accepted policy, not theory.

Take the Air Force. It has launched 255 solar projects at installations worldwide. At Arizona's Luke Air Force Base outside Phoenix, a 14-megwatt solar farm will be among the nation's largest, capable of powering 4,250 homes, enough to power all of the huge training base's energy needs.

Some Air Force jets now are powered by biofuels.

The Army is purchasing hundreds of hybrid electric and biofuel vehicles, plus developing small, lightweight solar panels for powering laptop computers, satellite phones and lights.

The Navy has commissioned an electric-drive ship, the USS Makin Island.

As Defense Department energy official Joseph Sikes explains, "It is fossil fuels that cause the greenhouse-gas problem and cause our dependence on foreign oil, which is part of the reason we are engaged in the parts of the world we are engaged in."

In a defense policy paper, the Pentagon also says climate change "may act as an accelerant of instability and conflict, placing a burden to respond on . . . militaries around the world."

This is clear-headed, unromantic thinking. The less the U.S. military needs to depend on oil—the Pentagon is the largest fossil-fuel user in the nation—the less likely its missions will be interrupted by oil embargoes or shortages created by an international war. And the more alternate energy sources, the less damage to the planet's environment.

Consumed with not offending their patrons in oil and coal, hundreds of members in Congress have opted out of any believable claims to serving the public interest.

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