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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Zilmer: US must break away from its overreliance on oil

Guest Commentary

America’s overdependence on oil represents a significant threat to our national security.

That’s the message I recently shared at the Young Conservatives for Energy Reform’s launch event in New Hampshire. And I learned it’s an issue that many of New Hampshire’s leading young conservatives are concerned about and want to address. ...

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America’s overdependence on oil represents a significant threat to our national security.

That’s the message I recently shared at the Young Conservatives for Energy Reform’s launch event in New Hampshire. And I learned it’s an issue that many of New Hampshire’s leading young conservatives are concerned about and want to address.

While serving for 36 years in the Marine Corps, I saw America’s current approach to energy risks undermining our military’s effectiveness and compromising its ability to ensure the safety and security of our nation.

The bottom line: Our overdependence on oil takes a toll on and off the battlefield. It comes with high costs – in dollars and in lives.

All too often the need for oil turns our troops into targets. A Marine Corps evaluation found that convoy operations account for 10 percent of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. I witnessed the dangers firsthand while serving in the Anbar Province during the “Anbar Awakening.” Fuel convoys were frequent targets of attacks.

Oil comes with an expensive price tag. And the military’s demand for oil has grown significantly over time. The Army uses an average of 22 gallons of fuel per soldier per day in Afghanistan. That’s 20 more gallons than the average soldier used in World War II. The costs are considerable. The Pentagon spent more than $17 billion on fuel in 2011.

Today, I serve on CNA’s Military Advisory Board, a panel of retired admirals and generals who collectively have more than 400 years of military experience. The board studies issues critical to our national security – and our energy posture is a top concern.

The advisory board’s latest report, “Ensuring America’s Freedom of Movement: A National Security Imperative to Reduce U.S. Oil Dependence,” found that a 30 percent reduction in American oil consumption is necessary to enhance national security and ensure our ability to move goods and people freely about the nation in the event of a major disruption to our oil supply.

This goal is ambitious, but achievable. The keys include using energy more efficiently and moving to alternative sources of energy.

The U.S. military is already taking action, and renewable energy and efficiency are having tangible benefits on the battlefield. For example, forward operating bases are embracing efficiency and deploying clean energy sources, and Marines in Afghanistan are using lightweight, solar-powered equipment. This means fewer convoys for diesel fuel to run generators – and fewer Americans at risk.

In the longer term, each of America’s armed services is embracing clean energy goals. The Army plans to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. The Marine Corps’ main expeditionary energy goal is to increase operational energy efficiency on the battlefield by 50 percent. This is expected to reduce the amount of fuel each Marine uses by 50 percent per day.

New Hampshire has a role to play in addressing our nation’s energy challenges and in helping secure a safer and more prosperous future for its residents and for the nation as a whole.

Clean energy policies like the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard have the potential to attract new companies into the state, foster innovation and cut down on the need for fossil fuels that are subject to volatile price shocks.

Energy efficiency also can help New Hampshire companies improve their bottom lines and become more competitive. For example, energy efficiency upgrades are helping EMD Millipore’s factory in Jaffrey save more than $160,000 each year.

At the inaugural event for the New Hampshire chapter of the Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, I learned that many conservatives in New Hampshire don’t see the need to address our nation’s energy challenges as a Republican or a Democratic issue. They see it as an American issue.

Having spent my career in the military, I believe this is an issue that rises above partisan politics. And I agree that taking steps to strengthen our nation’s security and economy for generations to come is a goal all Americans can get behind.

Retired Lt. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer was deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs at Headquarters Marine Corps. He serves on CNA’s Military Advisory Board and was the featured speaker at the recent Young Conservatives for Energy Reform’s New Hampshire launch event.