Photo: saluteAs you may have noticed, I don’t write as much about federal politics as I used to. Right now in federal politics there’s plenty of news, but almost no interesting ideas or policy disputes. Today’s House Republicans are purely nihilistic; they’re trying to tear everything down. Look at this list of Republican environmental amendments. Or this one. They’re just going after anything the other team has done to disturb the status quo. Some Democrats are trying, fecklessly and fitfully as usual, to hold some things together. It’s a battle with immense stakes, but on the level of ideas it’s just not that interesting. (In fact it’s depressing as all hell; I don’t envy political reporters these days.)
One recent bit of Republican brazenness deserves to be called out, though. The military has said that it does not want to consider high-carbon fuels among its future options. Congressional conservatives and fossil-state Democrats are attempting to tell the Pentagon, no, you must consider high-carbon fuels.
In short, conservatives are disagreeing with the considered judgment of the military on the national security implications of fossil fuels. One might even accuse them of hating our troops.
Backstory: One of the most valuable provisions in 2007’s Energy Independence and Security Act is Section 526, which prohibits federal agencies from purchasing fuels with a higher lifecycle carbon content than conventional petroleum. Among other things, 526 would prevent the military from buying coal-to-liquids or Canadian tar-sands fuels.
To be clear, the military is not asking for repeal of Section 526. Quite the opposite. Tom Hicks, the Navy’s deputy assistant secretary for energy, testified to Congress, “We are comfortable with 526. It is an effective policy tool.” Elizabeth King, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, wrote to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.):
The Department [of Defense] supports the goals and intent behind the current law. Most critically, the existing law has not prevented the Department from meeting our current mission needs. …
Further, repeal or exemption could hamper the Department’s efforts to provide better energy options to our warfighters and further increase America’s reliance on non-renewable fuels. Our dependence on those types of fuels degrades our national security, negatively impacts our economy, and harms the environment. [Emphasis added.]
Retired Navy Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn put it bluntly (sub req): “There is no compelling rationale for changing 526. Zero.”
No rationale, that is, except to open large markets for dirty fuels from oil and coal states and Canada’s tar-sands regions. (Canadian oil has sharply increased its lobbying in Washington.) That’s what conservatives are trying to do, along with Dems like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Elizabeth McGowan tells the sad story.
It’s always been amazing to me that conservatives can get away with this. The right-wing “tough on security” mythology is so deeply entrenched that conservative politicians can openly defy the military on a matter of national security — in the name of fossil fuel corporations — and get no blowback whatsoever.
It’s just one more outrage in a flood that’s too torrential to allow for reasoned contemplation of any single one. That’s what it is to write about federal politics these days. “Look, another awful, indefensible thing! And there’s another! And another!” It’s enough to test one’s equanimity.