By Senator Mark Udall
No one needs to tell consumers about the importance of energy security. They see it every week when they fill up their cars. But to our men and women in uniform around the world, energy security is synonymous with national security.
As the Senate Armed Services Committee marks up our version of the 2013 defense authorization bill this week, one of the key provisions under scrutiny will be how we approach the military's use and development of alternative-fuel technologies. Some of my colleagues in Congress believe the military should not invest in alternative fuels.
But I strongly believe this approach is short sighted. Our military has to be in the vanguard of developing and deploying energy technologies.
The rising and unpredictable cost of energy takes a steep toll on our armed forces. Our military consumes over 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 dollars since 2001.
When the DOD needs to balance rising fuel costs with savings from elsewhere in its budget, it pulls funding from operations accounts that delay equipment repairs, reduce mission capabilities and hamper our troops' ability to do their jobs.
What's more, our reliance on fossil fuels forces our military to protect oil production and open fuel-supply lines in the Middle East that are extremely vulnerable to attack. Attacks on fuel convoys are a very visible reminder of the money, fuel and lives we lay on the line to keep oil flowing.
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 -- it also strengthens our national security.
Our military has always been on the technological cutting edge, but rumblings in the U.S. House of Representatives call into question Congress's commitment to making sure our armed forces are the most advanced in the world. Alternative energy sources like biofuels, tactical solar arrays, and state-of-the-art batteries are ready for use today, but election-year political grandstanding blocks a crucial way forward to make our fighting forces better than ever before.
That is why I am working to support the Defense Department's efforts to research, develop, test and evaluate renewable energy technologies. Our military leaders recognize that saving energy saves lives.
The solutions that hang in the balance could reduce the fuel being used, get convoy trucks off of dangerous roads, and allow troops to focus on their primary mission. Case in point: Marines using solar panels instead of heavy batteries to run their computers and lights can now carry more ammunition and be more nimble in the combat theater. I think such funding that helps protects our troops while increasing their fighting capabilities is money well spent.
The United States has always maintained our strategic superiority in the world by refusing to be satisfied with the status quo. Our energy policy -- for consumers at home and our military -- should take the same approach. We can't afford to wait until the next energy crisis or national tragedy forces our hand. We need to change the geopolitics of energy in our favor now, so that our military and our economy are not beholden to just one fuel source -- especially one in somebody else's backyard. It is time that Congress recognize that choosing between energy security and national security is a false choice -- they go hand in hand.