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The Burden of Picking an Energy Loser

U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) issued an odd tweet about U.S. energy policy last month:

Odd, because the Republican brand has always gone hand in glove with national defense, which is indisputably the government’s job. A critical part of that job involves the ability to get the best military equipment and the best fuel on which to run it, which is what we’d call picking energy winners. As for the consequences of picking losers, a new documentary called The Burden lays it all out in stark, chilling terms.

The Burden film about military oil dependency

National Defense and Oil Dependency

The Burden is produced by the documentary filmmaker Roger Sorkin, who is a fellow at the national security advocacy organization The Truman Project. If you’ve heard of the veterans’ clean energy coalition Operation Free, that’s an initiative of The Truman Project.

The strength of The Burden is its use of active-duty military officials as well as retired military personnel to tell the story of why — in the context of modern warfare, emerging new technologies, and alternative sources of energy — oil has become an energy loser.

In terms of national security, oil dependency has become a logistical and operational burden, while directly resulting in significant numbers of U.S. military personnel killed or wounded in operations related to fuel convoys.

Among those featured in the film are Gen. James Amos, USMC, Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps; Col. Bob Charette, USMC, Director, Expeditionary Energy Office (familiar to CleanTechnica readers from this); Vice Adm. Phil Cullom, USN, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations; Jon Gensler, former Army captain in Iraq and solar industry professional; Cdr. Blake McBride, USN, Deputy Director, Task Force Climate Change; and Gen. Tony Zinni, USMC (Ret.), Fmr. Commander, U.S. Central Command.

Along with individual casualties directly attributed to oil dependency, The Burden also underscores the broad impact on servicemen and women in terms of America’s obligations to protect overseas oil supplies and transportation routes in unstable regions, and the impact of global warming on national security.

The Oil Burden on U.S. Communities

CleanTechnica had a conversation with former Army captain Jon Gensler* last month, and he added some personal background about the consequences of military oil dependency.

Jon, who is now a project manager at Borrego Solar Systems, grew up in West Virginia. From his point of view, the impact of oil dependency ripples out from the needless deaths of individual troops to affect the well being of entire communities, possibly for  generations.

“They send off their best and brightest, the football stars, the future leaders,” he explains. “You lose a couple of people… people who care about community… who care about service….”

Larger towns and cities have a better ability to absorb the death of a few talented citizens, but as Jon describes it, the small rural communities from which many military personnel are drawn can suffer a crippling blow with the loss of just a few standout individuals.

Fighting the Next War, with Oil

Losses from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been bad enough, when U.S. troops have been mainly up against ad hoc campaigns that take advantage of oil dependency through hit-and-run ambushes and roadside bombs. Amplify that into the next conflict, which could involve operations against an organized, modern force, and add to that the price of oil in overseas operations, which the Department of Defense estimates at $400 per gallon.

Jon Gensler points out that readiness is also affected, as the cost of training troops bumps up with the price of fuel needed to power vehicles and equipment.

That is why, despite aggressive pushback from members of Congress, the Department of Defense has been aggressively pursuing alternative energy in all directions, from a Net Zero program that takes U.S. bases entirely off the grid with alternative energy, to solar power gear for use at forward operating bases overseas and even in combat.

U.S. Energy Policy: Where the Buck Should Stop

To be clear, when Rep. Pompeo talks about energy winners and losers, he is not just speaking for himself. The “winners and losers” formulation appears on page 15 of the new Republican Party platform, which states that “Unlike the current Administration, we will not pick winners and losers in the energy marketplace.”

Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan played the same theme while attempting a  smackdown of President Obama’s energy policies in a recent television interview:

“It’s borrowing money and spending money through Washington, picking winners and losers. Spending money on favorites, you know, people like Solyndra or Fisker. Picking winners and losers in the economy through spending, through tax breaks, through regulations….”

As for Mr. Romney, the candidate for Commander-in-Chief adopted the same outlook in a new online policy debate hosted by Scientific American:

“Energy development, economic growth, and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand if the government focuses on transparency and fairness instead of seeking to pick winners and repay political favors.”

Mr. Romney and his fellow Republicans seem to have forgotten that oil is a global market, in which prices and supplies are dictated by decision-makers among a broad range of stakeholders, including oil companies, foreign nations, and terrorist organizations.

Natural disasters and political instability also play a critical role in the global market, with rising demand for oil in developing nations addiing another twist, and as Jon Gensler points out, the emergence of India and China as global economic leaders has created “a new level of challenge we’re not dealing with yet.”

Against this backdrop, how is it that the President of the United States is supposed to focus not on setting policies that best serve the long-term interests of our nation, but on stepping aside and letting others make decisions that best serve their own purposes? We’ve come to a sorry state in this democracy when the leadership responsibilities of our elected Commander-in-Chief are supposed to be dropped like a hot potato, but there you have it.

Image: U.S. fuel drop by parachute courtesy of

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

*Readers please note, other parts of this interview are reported here.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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