Testimony to Congress: Oil Dependence Threatens Our Security


(On 6-19-12, Truman National Security Project Vice-President Mike Breen delivered the following testimony to the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.)

Chairman Stearns, Ranking Member DeGette, members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to appear before you today to discuss the critical national security importance of clean energy development.

I am the Vice President of the Truman National Security Project, a former Army officer and an Iraq & Afghanistan combat veteran. I am also proud to be one of the leaders of Operation Free, a non-partisan coalition of veterans who believe that our dependence on fossil fuel poses a clear national security threat to the United States.

These men and women have walked the burning oil fields of Iraq and patrolled the mountain roads of Afghanistan – where the fully-burdened cost of fuel is $30 a gallon[i], and 1 in 24 fuel convoys ends in an American casualty.[ii] It is an established consensus in the defense community that our dependence on oil threatens our national security.

America sends over $1 billion per day overseas for oil. [iii] It should not be a surprise, then, that oil is the single largest contributor to our foreign debt, outpacing even our trade deficit with China. Worse, far too many of those dollars wind up in the hands of regimes that wish us harm.

According to the CIA, over 50% of Iran’s entire budget comes from the oil sector.[iv] For every $5 rise in the price of a barrel of crude oil, Iran receives an additional $7.9 billion annually.[v] That’s billions of dollars to build new nuclear facilities, replace centrifuges and support terrorist groups that threaten Americans and target our Israeli allies.

There is another consensus emerging in the defense community: climate change poses a serious threat to our national security.

I know not everyone in this room believes that climate change is real, but our country’s national security professionals do. The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review, the military’s most important strategic document, states that climate change is “an accelerant of instability and conflict” and that climate change and reliance on fossil fuels are “prominent military vulnerabilities” for the nation.[vi]

The CIA has established a Center on Climate Change and National Security. The Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Center for a New American Security, the CNA Military Advisory Board, the National Research Council and numerous other non-partisan organizations have all found, independently of one another, that climate change poses a serious and growing threat to our national security.

According to a recent study, over 97% of climate scientists say that man-made climate change is a reality.[vii] I’m not a climate scientist—I’m a former front-line combat leader in the US military. And as a combat leader, if 97% of my intelligence indicated that I was about to face a lethal danger that would risk the lives of my paratroopers, I would be committing unconscionable malpractice if I did not listen and act.

We see leaders acting in the same vein today in Kern County, California. Located in the high desert, Kern supplied the crude that fueled much of the mid-20th century oil boom. Kern County has always been proud to provide American energy. That’s why in the 21st century, Kern has turned to renewable sources, becoming the largest producer of wind and solar energy in California. Clean technologies are creating jobs in a place where unemployment had been 64% higher than the national average.

Two months ago, in this very building, I stood with Jeff Duff, the CEO of Air-Streams Renewables, a technical school in Kern County that trains wind turbine technicians. Air-Streams is proud that 70% of its graduates are veterans. One of Jeff’s students, a naval electrician, struggled to find work after leaving the service. He left a night job at a mortuary to join Air-Streams and graduated at the top of his class. Now, he’s serving his community by building the energy economy of the future.

As we debate clean technologies, we often ignore energy’s impact on our national security. There will be a lot of emphasis in this room today on cost. But the price of fossil fuels includes more than searching, extracting and shipping. There are security costs that we must recognize. Fossil fuels fund extremists, and breed dependency on nations that don’t share our values. We can let stories like Kern County’s be what they are today: promising, but not commonplace. Or instead, we can lead, by investing in 21st century technologies that keep America safe and prosperous.

Our Take:
QED — that is, this is solid proof — of our need to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. Biofuels and other homegrown energy represent the pathway to our energy independent future. We need to honor Breen and all those who have served and will serve by eliminating the need to protect the global flow of fossil fuels at such a high price in American lives.

We would add America’s Corn Belt to the list with Kern County–these locations and their visionary leaders are the source for America’s renewable energy future.

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