Military exempted from Biden to cut federal emissions

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There is a hole the size of the Pentagon in President Biden’s plans to cut government emissions.

Biden signed an executive order earlier this month directing the government to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. It also calls for the elimination of climate pollution from federal buildings and vehicles.

But the executive order exempts anything that has to do with national security, combat, intelligence or military training.

That means Biden’s order covers only a fraction of the state’s emissions. While military leaders insist they share the president’s decarbonization goal, there is no plan to achieve it.

Since 2001, the military has accounted for 77 to 80 percent of federal energy consumption, according to a Study 2019 published by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. And it uses more oil than any other institution in the world – more than most countries. (The government estimates military pollution at around 56 percent of state emissions, but independent estimates suggest it is much higher.)

“Of course, if you reduce [emissions from] the rest of the US government, but leave the military untouched or let it go at its own pace – this is not going to bring you the kind of cuts you have come to expect from the US government, ”said Neta Crawford, co-director from the Watson Institute’s Costs of War Project and author of the US Military Emissions Estimation Study.

The Department of Defense has no decarbonization goals. It has relied on other sustainability policies to incorporate the climate benefit.

“DoD has no greenhouse gas reduction initiatives,” the department said Sustainability plan 2020related to greenhouse gases. “However, the implementation of energy efficiency, energy security, renewable energies and other improvement projects together contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Last month, Assistant Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said the Pentagon was working on a new sustainability plan that would include a “path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Experts believe the Department of Defense will buy ever larger quantities of electric vehicles, renewable energy, and other clean technologies. However, many experts doubt how deeply the military can decarbonise its operations. Biden’s executive order, it says, allows the military to bypass difficult decisions regarding its massive pollution.

Biden’s order is not an outlier. Already since the Kyoto Protocol – the climate treaty of 1997 – the military have been exempted from agreements to reduce emissions. They were also excluded from emissions reporting.

The decarbonization of the military is both a political and a technical problem, experts said. There is no alternative to the military’s largest source of emissions: kerosene. However, there are ways to use less of it, e.g. B. closing bases, conducting fewer operations or decommissioning older combat equipment.

Implicit with these approaches, experts said, is a rethinking of the way the United States uses its military.

“The real way to reduce the military’s carbon footprint is to reduce its global footprint,” said Heidi Peltier, senior researcher at Brown University and program director for the Costs of War Project.

In a way, the Pentagon wants to do some of this within the United States. But it has been hampered by lawmakers whose districts benefit from building weapon systems or keeping bases open.

The Pentagon said in 2017 that about every fifth military base was unnecessary. However, Congress has codified the existing number of bases, most recently through the National Defense Authorization Act 2022. Likewise, the latest defense law prohibits the military, the A-10 Warthog, the attack aircraft first produced in the 1970s, from consuming over 3 gallons of fuel for one Mile can fly, shut down.

However, even if the Pentagon got its way on these issues, its emissions would follow globally. Experts said it would take profound changes to align the U.S. military with global climate benchmarks.

“The little things are worth doing,” said William Hartung, director of the defense and security program at the Center for International Politics. But “reconsidering the US global footprint would have the greatest impact on the Pentagon’s fossil fuel reduction.”

About 30 percent of the Department of Defense’s emissions come from facilities, while about 70 percent come from operations.

These operations include things like aircraft carrier patrols through key sea trade routes. Carriers are nuclear powered, but their support vessels are not. The Navy is required by law to operate at least 11 aircraft carriers and is currently building new ones.

“What has preoccupied the United States for the past 30 years is maintaining American supremacy. And frankly, it retains supremacy at the expense of high emissions, ”said Crawford, who is also chairman of Boston University’s political science institute.

“The DOD says climate change is a huge threat to our national security,” she added. “But our own emissions make us less safe.”

$ 617 million for climate

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies during a House Forces Committee hearing in September. | Rod Lamby / Pool via AP

The military sees a certain climate policy in line with its missions.

For example, the military has identified fuel convoys as a weak point in combat, so the Department of Defense has used solar panels to reduce their reliance on diesel generators.

The Department of Defense is responsible for about half of the government’s renewable electricity consumption. In 2019, the division awarded approximately $ 820 million in performance-based contracts to improve the clean energy and energy efficiency of its facilities.

Biden said it was the military’s own warnings that led him to take climate change so seriously.

“When I was over in the tank at the Pentagon and I was first elected vice president with President Obama, the military sat down with us to tell us what the greatest threats to America were, the greatest physical threats,” Biden said previous year and tells a story he has told many times.

“This is not a joke. Do you know what the Joint Chiefs told us the biggest threat to America was? Global warming.”

In fact, preparing for climate change remained a military focus even under former President Trump. Now Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has appointed a senior climate advisor, Joe Bryan, who was previously the Navy’s deputy assistant secretary of energy.

There is “no competition between what is good for the climate” [and] which is good for the mission, ”Bryan said in October.

However, reducing emissions had a lower priority than building resilience.

Biden called for $ 715 billion for the latest defense bill. Of that, $ 617 million was earmarked for the climate – and of this, 135 million US dollars were requested for decarbonization, the rest of the climate money was used for resilience, research and war games.

“Your focus was more on, will your bases be underwater? Will it create more conflict? ”Said Hartung. “You will always have a somewhat narrower perspective that does not focus on the climate.”

Power of the purse

A US Air Force B-2 stealth bomber flies over the US Air Force Memorial near the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
An Air Force B-2 stealth bomber flies over the Air Force Memorial near the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. | Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Some experts have high expectations of the Defense Ministry’s climate policy. You see the armed forces’ eagerness to decarbonise themselves. And they suggest that the trend could carry over to a wider society.

By harnessing the government’s purchasing power, Biden’s mandate aims to reorient the private sector towards low-carbon products. The more green products the government buys, the easier it will be for companies to sell the same things cheaply to the public.

It could also force companies to cut their own emissions in order to win government contracts.

“If the military were to lead the way in demanding more fuel and energy efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions from their contractors – it would be many of the largest companies and manufacturers in the country and the world,” said Linda Bilmes, professor of public policy and finance at the Harvard University.

“That alone could have a significant impact on the country’s development,” she said.

The purchasing power of the Pentagon is mammoth. For example, its non-tactical vehicle fleet is the second largest in the government after the US Postal Service.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Hicks visited General Motors Co. last month to learn how the auto company could electrify military vehicles. She then said in a speech at Wayne State University that the department was committed to “making significant changes in our energy use.”

“The tactical electrification of vehicles, initially through hybrid electrotechnology, has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but should also offer significant operability,” she said, citing the low heat signature, quiet operation and reduced maintenance requirements.

Such actions show how seriously the military takes decarbonization, regardless of the exemptions in Biden’s executive order, said Erin Sikorsky, director of the Center for Climate and Security.

“I do not think so [Hicks] would speak publicly on the matter and engage with the private sector … if there weren’t any plans within the department for strong emissions reduction measures, “she said.

Sikorsky also pointed out how often the White House cited in its government-wide military initiatives or Pentagon expertise Sustainability plan: Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia is working towards net zero emissions, and Edwards Air Force Base is building a 650 megawatt solar array.

“I don’t think DOD can just say, ‘All we do is carveout, and that’s why we got there because the denominator is zero,'” Sikorsky said.

“However, I think the key to ensuring DOD actions is to make sure they understand that there are operational benefits and strategic benefits to pursuing renewables,” she added. “What you do is not only good for the environment, but also serves the mission of DOD.”


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