By Steve Leone
It was 1996 and Rear Adm. Larry Baucom had a job to do. His mission: Protect American oil interests in the Persian Gulf. Even with the backdrop of peace, Baucom understood this was a costly endeavor.
While the price of military intervention is often measured in American lives, in this case it was the staggering amount of American dollars that most clearly made his point. In today’s dollars, keeping just one of America’s 11 aircraft carriers fully operational for a year costs about $400 million. Often times, that is the role the military plays — keep the shipping lanes open and keep the oil flowing. To Baucom, it’s just another of the many hidden costs of maintaining our current energy needs, and it’s an argument that is usually lost amid the debate on subsidies and government support.
Baucom, now retired, is adamant that America’s dependence on foreign oil — relatively unchanged over the past three decades — undermines our national security and our ability to dictate our energy future. He argues that climate change will ultimately result in more natural disasters, more famine and more global instability, and that too will require more American military intervention.
The former fighter pilot and current Pentagon consultant was among those pushing a renewable energy agenda Wednesday in Concord, N.H., a state capital that will hold significant political sway during the upcoming First in the Nation Presidential Primary.
The event was hosted by Operation Free, a coalition of military veterans and groups with national security interests focused on breaking America’s reliance on fossil fuels. Baucom was joined onstage by an unlikely figure in an effort to redefine government policy in favor of renewable forms of energy. Last November, Republican State Sen. Gary Lambert was part of the nation’s dramatic rightward shift during the midterm elections. Now Lambert, a self-described strong conservative and the first Republican to win his district in 95 years, is facing stiff political pressure from his own party for his support of the carbon cap-and-trade program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and for his stance that the country should invest public money to support the growth of renewable forms of energy.
“Getting GOP support [on energy policy not based on domestic drilling] is a difficult sell,” Lambert said Wednesday, the same day he successfully blocked a Republican-led effort to pull the state out of RGGI. “I’m a conservative on a lot of issues, but there’s a camp out there that says that if the free market doesn’t control energy, we don’t want to have anything to do with it.”
The notion of over-reliance on foreign oil has always carried weight within the Republican Party. The issue, however, has largely been answered by a call to increase domestic drilling. That, he says, is a fallacy that scores easy political points but falls short as a feasible solution. Lambert notes that the U.S. consumes a quarter of the world’s oil output while holding three percent of the known reserves. “We cannot drill our way out,” he said.
Instead, he says his party needs to take the lead on energy security, and it needs to do it by promoting renewable energy as a job creator and as a sustainable solution to the country’s energy needs. But does his party see it that way?
“I’m not seeing a lot of momentum,” said Lambert. “What really concerns me as a Republican is that the Democrats have stolen this issue from us. And there’s no reason for them to do that. This is about America’s future. This is about national security. We should be out on the lead with this.”
Both Baucom and Lambert have had extensive military careers and each has been involved in numerous foreign conflicts. They both painted a stark picture of the current landscape, the potentially volatile times ahead and the role the military gain play in leading change.
Among the points they made:
- Addiction to foreign oil and climate change are national security threats that are now spelled out in our national military strategy.
- Dependence on foreign oil funnels money into regimes that often are not friendly to the United States, and some of that money likely ends up with the very terrorists that are targeting American forces.
- The Department of Defense is the largest single consumer of oil in the United States, accounting for 93 percent of all the federal energy consumption at 340,000 barrels of oil a day.
- Fuel convoys are ripe targets in war-torn areas, and using renewable technology like solar power gives a tactical advantage that will ultimately save lives.
Strides Already Made
There has already been a change — or an order, if you will — that has come from the highest levels of the Pentagon. While the shift hasn’t necessarily resonated politically, Baucom says it has been noticed by the rank and file members of the military.’
“I think there’s a growing pride,” said Baucom. “Sailors are proud that we don’t throw trash in ocean anymore, we don’t pollute as much as we used to and we have a lessening impact on the environment.”
At Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, most of the energy output comes from a solar installation while at a Navy and Marine training facility at Dam Neck, Va., about half the power comes from geothermal sources. On the same day as the press conference, the Department of Energy announced a deal to install solar panels at 160,000 rooftop locations at military bases in 33 states.
In August, the military announced a plan to install large-scale renewable energy projects on its lands to meet a goal of drawing 25% of electricity from clean sources by 2025.
Even more potential comes from biofuels that will be used by the Air Force and the Navy. Also in August, President Obama announced a federal investment of $510 million over three years to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels. The goal is that by 2016, all military fuel will be blended with 50 percent biofuel.
That type of progress brings Baucom back to his days as a fighter pilot. “When I used to fly F-14s, I’d go through 2,000 gallons of jet fuel in 15 minutes in full afterburner. That’s a lot of foreign oil to go through. Cut that in half, and it’s a step in the right direction.”