Members of Congress are currently divided over the question of whether the Pentagon budget should be increased or adhere to the current spending caps enforced by the 2011 Budget Control Act. However, there is a common-sense way to reduce Pentagon costs and conserve resources over the long-term that all members of Congress should unite behind. For FY 2016, Congress should fund and encourage military efforts to increase energy efficiency and the use of clean energy sources because doing so will save lives, conserve resources, and reduce conflict worldwide.  

The military’s current reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable and costly. The Department of Defense (DOD) alone uses more than 80 percent of all fuel consumed by the federal government, and accounts for 1.3 percent of total U.S. petroleum consumption, the highest of any single institution. This dependence on fossil fuels can quickly turn deadly: airdrops to some remote bases in Afghanistan require seven gallons of fuel to deliver just one gallon, with each priced at up to a staggering $400.  

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Other outposts require fuel to be delivered by ground convoys, resulting in devastating consequences. Over 3,000 soldiers have been killed or wounded in Afghanistan since Sep. 11, 2001 in attacks on fuel convoys; in 2007, for instance, one in every 24 fuel convoys suffered a casualty. In fact, 17 percent of all Army deaths during Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom between November 2001 and September 2010 came from ground convoys, 70 percent of which were delivering fuel and water to outposts. 

To stave off these tragic effects of oil dependency, the military is already committed to reducing the quantity of fossil fuels that they consume on the battlefield. In 2010, the DOD established an Office of the Assistant Secretary of Operational Energy Plans and Programs, and tasked Sharon Burke with the goal of strengthening the energy security of U.S. military operations. The DOD is pursing $9 billion worth of efficiency measures, such as an Army effort to seal tents with better insulation and pursue technologies like tent shading and more efficient environmental control units to moderate temperature. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alan Samuels has also noted the use of load-sensitive micro-grids in the field, which prevent unnecessary power generation and provide energy security and reliability. All of these measures result in fewer fuel convoys needed and more lives saved.  

The military is also pursuing alternative energy sources like solar power as a more practical, clean, and reliable power source. When remote bases or missions – like those in Afghanistan’s Khyber Pass – use portable solar panels, soldiers save time and decrease the risk of transporting fossil fuels to power their diesel generators. SunDial Capital Partners, a company formed by two veterans who lost friends in fuel convoys, has been pioneering mobile solar arrays of 120 photovoltaic panels, which has allowed reductions of up to 61 percent in fuel consumption on bases. The Army has spent $10 million on these portable solar systems for Special Forces units. Other companies have created light solar systems – some which can even be attached to a backpack – to power field-essential equipment like GPS systems and floodlights.  

The reduction of energy consumption is not only important tactically, it also helps achieve longer-term goals of reducing conflict worldwide. By weaning the U.S. off of fossil fuels, the military won’t have to defend places like the Persian Gulf and Erbil solely to protect the flow of oil. Retired Lt. General Norman Seip, 12th Air Force Commander, stated that “the continuous requirement to protect oil supplies in dangerous regions of the world puts our brave men and women in harm’s way each and every day.”  

As Congress thinks about where it will allocate money for FY 2016, it must make the responsible choice to invest in clean, renewable, and more efficient energy technologies that will save lives and precious resources. Congress must remember that “security” is about far more than just having the newest and most powerful weapons systems – it means listening to military leaders when they testify to the benefits of using resources in a smarter way. By supporting the military’s efforts to invest in clean energy, Congress can ensure that conflicts won’t arise over fossil fuels and natural resources, create sustainable communities at home and abroad, and embrace the future of clean energy technology.

Wirzba is a fellow with the Clean Energy Leadership Institute and a policy associate for Sustainable Energy and Environment at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.