In 2009, I went on TV in a debate against Congressman Phil Gingrey, the Georgia Republican who wanted to fund the purchase of F-22 fighter jets that the Pentagon didn't want, and said were useless in the wars we were fighting and will be fighting in the future. The Pentagon said it needed more, less expensive, F-35 fighters. Gingrey and Republicans wouldn't relent, at a time when our troops in Afghanistan desperately needed equipment on the ground. They were trying to force the military to sacrifice equipment it needed in favor of planes it didn't need.
I thought of that this week when I read that Republicans in Congress are introducing a load of measures that would prohibit the military from using renewable sources of energy in the field -- something the military is doing in an attempt to save lives.
Fuel convoys in Afghanistan are a frequent target of the Taliban and insurgents. According to Brigadier General Steven Anderson (Ret., U.S. Army), who was the senior logistician in Iraq, there are casualties in one out of every 24 fuel convoys in Afghanistan, and 47 fuel convoy drivers were killed there in 2010. Overall, convoys resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 Americans, as he said in this VoteVets ad in 2010.
For the military, then, finding renewable sources of energy -- especially those which don't require fuel to be transported, like solar power -- is a matter of saving the lives of Americans. While we all love the environment and want to be good stewards of the earth, the military isn't on some kind of ecological mission when it comes to renewables. They're trying to help ensure men and women come home to their loved ones.
This is not to mention that if units are energy efficient, they can go farther and do more in the field and worry less about refueling. That helps them be more effective in their missions.
You would think that Republicans would be on board with that, and allow the military the flexibility it needs to experiment with solar, wind, and biofuels in an attempt to save lives and be more effective.
Last week, the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee's budget contained a proposal that would forbid -- yes, forbid -- the military from purchasing alternative fuels that cost more than traditional fossil fuels.
Senators John McCain and James Inhofe went even further, introducing an amendment which would ban military construction of any refinery to process biofuels, unless specifically authorized by law. Meaning every time the Pentagon wanted to build a facility to make biofuels it needed it would have to ask Congress, and go through a whole fight, again.
This would effectively kill programs in the Army, Navy and Air Force, which are all developing technology aimed at putting more renewable vehicles in the field.
In particular, the Navy was very well underway with its "Green Strike Group," which would be entirely powered by biofuels, on its way to a goal of its entire fleet being off fossil fuels by 2016. The project is the hallmark of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who has been focused on creating a force that is more mobile and easier to fuel, so the Navy can be as quick and effective as it needs to be in 21st century wars. The Army would have to end its "Green Warrior Convoy" project, which is testing various fuels and vehicles that wouldn't depend on frequent refueling from fossil fuels. The Air Force would have to stop using blends of fuels.
In short, Republicans would be forcing the military to go back to using the same fuels that hampered it from doing its job -- and the same fuels that have resulted in the deaths of so many Americans.
Why? That's the question that must be asked. And the answer is pretty simple. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Oil and Gas interests have donated 88 percent of their political contributions to Republicans this cycle -- nearly $18 million. That's the highest percentage they've given to Republicans since at least 1990.
And, boy, are Republicans delivering for them. Even if it means forcing the Pentagon to stop developing programs that could make our military more effective. Even if it means banning programs that would save the lives of our troops. There is nothing, it seems, that they value more than delivering for their dirty oil campaign donors.