Unfortunately, this is not a problem that can be solved by drilling more for oil at home, for two reasons. First, the United States, with only a small percentage of the world’s oil reserves, simply cannot produce enough oil to meet the demands of both our consumers and the military. Second, the U.S. Military, particularly the Navy, is a fighting force with a globalpresence. They need the flexibility to be able to buy fuel from ports around the world, not just the American mainland.
Because of the national security importance of developing an alternative to oil, the military should be a leader in fostering these new energy sources. From the age of sail to steam to oil to nuclear, the United States Navy in particular has a history of swiftly transitioning to new energy sources when a strategic need arises. Today is no different: the dependence on oil for all flight operations and most sea transportation presents the Navywith long-term strategic risk.
The Department of the Navy has proposed to address this risk by using the Defense Production Act, in conjunction with the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture, to directly invest in commercial development of a domestic biofuels industry. This is not without cost – the government investment would be $510 million, matched equally by private sector funds – but the returns would be large, both in terms of strict budgetary reasons and in national security. We know that this technology works, and we have evidence that costs are falling dramatically. Last year, a congressionally mandated study concluded that biofuels would be competitive early in the next decade – a timetable that it said could be moved forward if the government partnered with industry to speed up commercialization.
On March 12, the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power held a field hearing, chaired by Senator Jeanne Shaheen, at Naval Station Norfolk aboard the USS Kearsarge that looked at the Navy’s efforts to help start a domestic biofuels industry. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, former Virginia Republican Senator John Warner, and representatives of the Navy and Marine Corps convincingly argued that directly supporting a domestic biofuels industry would help our national security as well as ultimately reducing fuel costs.
Ultimately, the Department of the Navy knows that alternative fuel development is not about being green – it is about combat capability and making a strategic choice to increase our national security. We can reduce our military’s crippling dependence on oil, but it will take a long-term strategic vision for creating a market for new alternatives to oil. They deserve credit for taking this strategic step, and Congress should make the necessary funding available. This is a unique opportunity to catalyze an important new industry that everyone in the United States who drives a car of flies in a plane will benefit from.
Lt Gen John “Glad” Castellaw USMC (Ret.) is on the Board of the American Security Project and president of the Crockett Policy Institute (CPI). Prior to CPI, Castellaw served in the Marines for 36 years holding several operational commands and flying more than two dozen different aircraft including the CH-46E Sea Knight, the TAV-8B Harrier and the MV-22B Osprey.