Point of View

Honor America’s fallen by lowering risks to troops caused by oil dependence

May 25, 2014 

This Memorial Day, we honor those who have died while serving in our nation’s armed forces. I have personally witnessed too many of our brave men and women put at risk on the battlefield while protecting fuel convoys.

In recent conflicts, fuel convoys have been among our enemies’ favorite targets. Transporting fuel to bases and troops in war zones has become an especially dangerous job.

As a commander in Iraq, I witnessed firsthand the toll in casualties imposed by our battlefield dependence on oil. And with other members of the CNA’s Military Advisory Board, a panel of retired three- and four-star generals and admirals, I have studied the intersection of energy and national security on a wider scale.

CNA’s Military Advisory Board has found that America’s over-dependence on fossil fuels makes us vulnerable on the battlefield. It is a national security threat – economically, militarily and diplomatically. Our oil dependence weakens us, constraining our options for action on the world stage and causing us to send money to regimes whose interests don’t always dovetail with ours.

There are also financial penalties attached to our armed forces’ dependence on fossil fuels. Every $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil means a $1.3 billion increase in operating costs for the Pentagon. And the military allocates a tremendous amount of resources to ensuring the freedom of movement of oil shipments – an estimated $8 trillion protecting oil cargoes in the Persian Gulf since 1976, a 2010 study found.

So it is no wonder that America’s armed forces are embracing energy efficiency and alternative energy sources. In Iraq, I called for more use of wind and solar resources and increased energy efficiency because finding ways to use less oil in war zones saves lives. Over the last several years, every branch of the military has set ambitious clean energy and efficiency targets, in a broad effort to boost energy security and cut operating costs.

If our men and women in uniform can incorporate efficiency and renewable energy into their dangerous jobs, surely the rest of us can do our part on the homefront. And as I learned during a visit to Raleigh recently, North Carolina is embracing the opportunity that clean energy represents.

At one event I spoke at, Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy joined the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, bringing together business leaders to talk about national security, energy and economics.

At another meeting, the Wake County Young Republicans and Young Conservatives for Energy Reform gathered to consider clean, efficient energy through a conservative lens, as an economic and national security imperative.

Since North Carolina’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard was introduced in 2007, about $2.7 billion has been invested in clean energy and efficiency, according to the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association.

That investment has supported more than 36,000 jobs. The state is staking out a leadership position in the growing renewable energy field, ranking second among all states in new solar installations last year.

In North Carolina and across America, our energy landscape is changing. We have the chance to create a future in which our nation’s energy is made here at home and can never run out and where our economy and national security are stronger and more resilient than ever. This Memorial Day, that is a good way to honor the fallen.

Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer retired from the U.S. Marine Corps after 36 years, finishing his military career as Deputy Commandant, Manpower and Reserve Affairs. He led Multinational Forces-West in Iraq’s Anbar province during the “Anbar Awakening.”

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