Senator Wants DoD Climate Change Goals Locked into Law

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Housing complex at Tyndall AFB sits flooded following Hurricane Michael.
The courtyard of a student housing complex at Tyndall AFB sits flooded with water and debris following Hurricane Michael on October 10, 2018. (U.S. Air force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexander Henninger)

As the military services roll out their climate change plans, a key senator is pushing to ensure the goals are met by enshrining them in law.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and an Army National Guard veteran, is introducing a bill Thursday that would set renewable energy goals for the Defense Department that match targets the military services have announced in recent months.

It's important to codify the goals, Duckworth said, "so that it isn't dependent on who happens to be secretary of defense."

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"We don't want a project to get underway and then for it to wane," Duckworth added in a phone interview with Military.com. "One of the things that needs to happen in order for the pivot away from fossil fuels to be effective is a long-term investment."

Under the Biden administration, which has made countering climate change a top priority, the military services have been setting energy goals, including the Navy on Wednesday releasing a climate plan that targets reducing emissions by 65% by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Net-zero means that any greenhouse gasses produced are offset by removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The Army in February also released a plan to halve emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2050.

The plans follow President Joe Biden signing, mere days into his first term, an executive order requiring federal agencies to craft climate change plans. Complying with the order, the Pentagon in October released its "Climate Adaptation Plan" that called for making military bases energy self-sufficient and for service members to improve their "climate literacy."

Duckworth's bill would broadly line up with the services' stated goals. Under the bill, the Defense Department would need to target using at least 40% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2024 and 100% by 2030.

The bill would also codify goals to reduce emissions from Defense Department operations by at least 65% by 2030 and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050; from installations procurement by 20% by 2024 and net-zero emissions by 2050; and from buildings on installations by 50% by 2032 and net-zero by 2045.

It would also set a goal of buying only zero-emission non-tactical vehicles by 2035, including zero-emission light-duty vehicles by 2027, and to work toward buying only zero-emission tactical vehicles by 2045.

The targets in Duckworth's bill would replace the one set in a 2006 law for the Defense Department to use no less than 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. The department is due to report to Congress later this year on whether it’s on track to meet that goal.

Electrifying vehicles, in particular, is a goal the Pentagon and military services have focused on. The Navy's plan, for example, pushes increased vehicle fuel efficiency while staying mostly silent on the bigger polluters of ships and planes.

In November, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks also touted plans for non-tactical vehicles to go all electric and for tactical vehicles to be hybrids before transitioning to fully electric.

Republicans have accused the Biden administration of focusing on "woke" ideologies and imposing the Green New Deal -- a sweeping climate change proposal advocated for by some congressional progressives -- at the expense of warfighting capabilities.

But military officials for years have identified climate change as a national security threat because issues caused by a changing climate such as food scarcity can lead to military conflict and because extreme weather can and has severely damaged military bases. The Marine Corps, for example, is considering moving its storied Parris Island Training Depot because the location is susceptible to dangerous hurricanes, flooding and heat that have grown worse and more frequent due to climate change.

Duckworth also pointed to fuel convoys leaving troops vulnerable; thousands of the U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan were from attacks on fuel convoys.

"It wasn't out of going out and kicking down doors trying to find insurgents," said Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran. "I keep thinking about all of those chow halls that we had for 20 years where if we just had invested money in the biofuels field, we could have actually been powering all of those thousands of generators in all of those bases with biofuels that we had actually produced from the food scraps from all of those chow halls and kept some of my troops off of the roads and not driving HEMTT [Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck] tanker trucks with with 5,000 gallons of fuel behind them."

In addition to setting renewable energy and emissions goals, Duckworth said the bill would provide the Pentagon with the "flexibility and authorities" to achieve them.

The bill would make it easier for the Pentagon to hire people "who possess skills and experience the secretary determines are necessary to support the sustainability efforts," according to the bill text.

It would also require the director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation to review investments in alternative fuel vehicles; authorize some new investments in and development of sustainable technologies, such as charging stations for vehicles; and require an independent study of emissions from certain Defense Department activities.

Duckworth is working on gathering cosponsors for the bill. A House companion is also being introduced by Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., a spokesperson for Duckworth said.

While Duckworth said she'd be "thrilled" if her bill was attached to the annual defense policy bill, which the Senate Armed Services Committee will begin debating next month, she also expressed confidence it could pass as a stand-alone bill because "DoD wants this."

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: Troops to Get 'Climate Literacy' Education Under Pentagon's New Climate Change Plan

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