Saturday, August 7, 2010

White House Forum on Energy Security: Signs of Leadership amidst Congressional Stasis

Dear reader, brace yourself another outburst from roving, roaming and occasionally raving DOD Energy reporter and guest blogger, Dan Nolan. He somehow manages to be in the right places at the right times to pick up on the prevailing winds in DOD and national energy policy formation.

On 27 July 2010, I had the opportunity to attend a briefing at the White House, hosted by Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. It was entitled the “White House Clean Energy Forum on Energy Security”. The event had been schedule to coincide with the roll out of the much anticipated Senate energy bill. After the 1,200 page House bill, the Senate bill was expected to take the bold step of finally putting a value on carbon. This was the seminal event that would finally create a value for energy security, make renewables competitive in cost and save the polar bears. Apparently exhausted by all the political fights this year, the Senate did not take a bold step and the bill had all the impact of a low velocity marshmallow. I sure am glad our troops don’t get tired.

Despite the disappointment, the White House carried on with the Forum featuring Ms. Browner and The Green Hornet, Navy Secretary Mabus. I attend at the invitation of Operation Free which represents veterans for clean energy and made up about half of the 100 plus people attending the Forum. Ms. Browner expressed her disappointment with the lack of substance in the Senate bill, but also said she would be looking at what other authorities were at the disposable of the Executive to continue to seek energy security for the Nation. She took the time to introduce Secretary Mabus and then darted out of the room to the next environmental/energy crisis.

Secretary Mabus, who has become the President’s go to guy on economic recovery following the disaster in the Gulf (Mexico, not Persian) talked about the dangers of fossil fuel dominance in mobility:
We don’t let them dictate how to build our ships, but we do let them decide if we can have the fuel we need.
He also talked about his energy goals for fleets as well as shore installations that exceed mandates and executive orders and demonstrates his leadership among the Services. The Secretary then introduced Mr. Dan Poneman, Deputy Secretary, Department of Energy, and then dashed out the door to a town hall meeting somewhere on an oil soaked beach.

Mr. Poneman lauded the efforts of DOD in this critical area, especially as a test bed for new technology. He also announced a new Memorandum of Understanding between DOE and DOD on energy security. He said:
The Department of Energy and the Department of Defense’s shared vision of a safe, secure energy future has provided us with a strong foundation to work together on energy issues. Working together, we can speed the transition to a clean-energy economy while helping protect our troops. Building a new energy future is the right thing to do to strengthen our national security, to promote economic prosperity, and to improve our environment. It is also the right thing to do for our men and women in uniform.
This will be a process worth watching if DOE starts bringing new dollars to DOD energy efforts. Mr. Poneman then introduced the brand spanking new Director of Operational Energy Plans and Programs, Ms. Sharon Burke.

During her opening remarks Ms. Burke demonstrated her sense of humor by referring to herself by the acronym for her position, the DOEPP (pronounced DOPE). That sense of humor will be necessary as she takes on this mission. Ms. Burke then brought up an impressive panel of DOD energy luminaries. She was joined by the Under Secretary of the Air Force, Ms Erin Conaton; Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Mr. Tom Hicks; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Infrastructure, Mr. Jerry Hansen and Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Installation and Environment, DOD, Mr. John Conger. Each cited an impressive array of statistics about installation energy. Operationally it was noted that we sustain one casualty for every twenty four convoys executed.

Spray foamed tents and the Net Zero Plus Joint Concept Technology Demonstrations were both mentioned, but no new programs, policies or efforts were announced, other than the rebranding of the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC) as Defense Logistics Agency, Energy. Not sure what that means operationally, but environmentally, it means a lot of new letterhead.

In the interest of brevity (and the fact I left early) I will not detail the follow on panel about Energy in Policy featuring Sherri Goodman, former Chief of Staff of the Army, GEN(R) Gordon Sullivan and fellow OpFree member and combat veteran Robin Eckstein. Robin had been a truck driver in numerous convoys in Iraq and knew firsthand the terror of IEDs while hauling fuel. She represents the thousands of young veterans out there that understand that there is a fully burdened cost of fuel in dollars AND blood.

In sum, the importance of this forum was the showcasing of DOE/DOD energy efforts by the White House. The failure of the Legislative Branch to address seriously our dependence on a commodity we do not control will be mitigated to some extent by the Executive’s power to regulate and invest in energy in the name of national security. DOD clearly recognizes the vulnerability of its installations to a fragile grid and the impact that oil dependence places on their operational capabilities. Economically, DOD represents thirty million acres (about the size of Pennsylvania), two billion square feet of facilities and an annual facilities energy bill of $3.8 billion.

When DOD decides to place a value on energy security, when it decides to get serious about energy security on installations, it will move markets and business will respond. DOD now has a lead for operational energy: Ms. Burke has assumed the mantle of the DOEPP, Secretary Mabus is The Green Hornet for the Navy, Under Secretary Conaton is at the helm for the Air Force and if the Army ever fills the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Privatization, we'll have a full house.

Photo credit: the National Guard on

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