Trump pick helped spur Pentagon renewables

Source: Ariel Wittenberg, E&E News reportera • Posted: Friday, December 2, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Pentagon is largely credited with inspiring the Department of Defense’s operational renewable energy initiatives.

Trump has chosen retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who retired in 2013 from his post as head of U.S. Central Command, to be his Defense secretary.

Mattis, whom Trump has labeled “the real deal,” has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration and the Iran nuclear deal since he retired in 2013 following a 41-year career in the Marines.

Mattis led the Marines into Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War and the initial wave into Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003.

It was during his time in Iraq that Mattis noticed that service members under his command were trying to move faster than fuel supplies could accommodate, requiring forces to slow down for resupply chains.

The observation led Mattis to famously ask Congress, in a post-combat report, to “unleash” the military “from the tether of fuel.”

Mattis’ report prompted the Pentagon to take a closer look at its supply chain, with DOD ultimately finding that by 2009 more than 3,000 troops and civilian contractors had been killed or wounded protecting convoys, 80 percent of which were transporting truck fuel.

DOD began a number of efforts to reduce soldiers’ reliance on oil in combat, including the development of solar blankets to provide energy to Marines on foot patrol, and more energy-efficient generators that could power entire forward operating bases.

Those steps are likely to stay in place under Mattis’ leadership, said Sharon Burke, who was responsible for implementing many energy changes during her role as assistant secretary of Defense. The use of renewables in the field has a clear tie to saving time and lives.

“Where you can make a clear case that it supports the military mission and fighting effectiveness, I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t support it,” she said.

Burke added that Mattis was supportive of solar blankets and similar initiatives when she worked with him at Central Command.

‘War fighters first’

But, Burke said, Mattis would be less likely to support other DOD energy programs that don’t have as obvious a benefit for creating a powerful, resilient fighting force.

“Mattis puts the war fighter first, second and third,” she said.

Burke said that while Mattis “meant it” when he asked for DOD to be relieved from its reliance on fuel, “It’s just not a top priority for him.”

“Mattis is a straight shooter, and he saw that our fuel demand was a potentially limiting factor,” she said. “Do I think he has changed his mind about that? No. But that doesn’t mean he will bless everything done over the last eight years.”

One vulnerable program could be the Navy’s efforts to spur biofuel production domestically by using it to power ships and jets. The “Great Green Fleet” launched this winter and is now deployed supporting the fight against the Islamic State group off the coast of Bahrain.

But ships running on biofuels have no tactical advantage over those running on petroleum. Instead, the argument for using biofuels is that doing so would reduce the Defense Department’s reliance on oil, which many observers see as contributing to the world’s conflicts.

That makes the biofuel program “more of a policy question,” which Burke said makes it vulnerable

“That is more of a matter of policy judgement,” she said. “It is more national energy security, not military energy security. … To the extent that the president-elect has made clear what his national energy security policy is, he clearly has a different opinion [than the Obama administration]. That’s where you will see changes.”

Domestic energy and resources

Before Mattis can take over as head of the Pentagon, Congress would not only need to confirm him but also pass legislation circumventing federal law preventing retired military officers from becoming secretaries of Defense within seven years of active duty. Congress had to pass a similar measure in 1950 to allow for the appointment of Gen. George C. Marshall.

As secretary, Mattis would have the most sway over operational energy use because many of those DOD initiatives are driven by internal department policy and executive orders.

Under the Obama administration, the Pentagon also pushed toward using more renewable energy at its domestic military bases.

Those programs are likely to remain in place at least in the short term because many involve private-public partnerships and contracts lasting 20 years or longer.

They also often involve energy savings and give out emergency energy sources, providing an security case for the programs to continue.

Mattis would have less sway over the Pentagon’s work protecting endangered and threatened species, which is largely dictated by the Endangered Species Act.