The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been a favorite target of House Republicans and presidential candidates all year, most notably current front-runner Newt Gingrich, but it looks like those working to dismantle the agency are going to have a tougher go of it from now on.
Last week, with little fanfare, the U.S. Army and EPA signed an agreement to collaborate on “Net Zero,” an Army program designed to implement technologies for resource conservation, renewable energy and energy self-sufficiency on Army bases.
The agreement underscores the growing extent to which the Army, along with the other four branches of the armed services, have begun to join environmental and military sustainability in a single mission.
The Army’s support could make it more difficult for Republicans to make a good case for diluting EPA’s authority, let alone eliminating the agency outright.
Specifically, the new agreement enables EPA’s Office of Research and Development to help the Army advance the goals of its Net Zero Initiative, which among other things directs Army facilities to pull out of petroleum products and grid-supplied energy, and shift into solar and other forms of energy that can be produced on site.
The new partnership is a two-way street, as EPA expects that once the military puts its seal of approval on new technologies and new approaches to sustainable management, they will be more readily adopted by the civilian sector. As Paul Anastas of the Office of Research and Development explained in an EPA blog post: “The Net Zero partnership was inspired by the Army’s ability to demonstrate true leadership in sustainability. The Army Installations are a test bed for new technologies that can solve more than one problem and can be replicated or scaled for communities throughout the nation.”
The Department of Defense’s rapidly expanding use of alternative energy is familiar ground to regular readers of TPM, but there is more to it than the steady drumbeat of new projects breaking ground.
The Army in particular has adopted an overarching cultural shift that is clearly at odds with the Republican focus on promoting fossil fuels regardless of the cost to public health and national security.
That shift is neatly summed up by the mission statement of Net Zero, which putting aside the military language is a full-on dive into an environmentalist’s utopia:
“We are creating a culture that recognizes the value of sustainability measured not just in terms of financial benefits, but benefits to maintaining mission capability, quality of life, relationships with local communities, and the preservation of options for the Army’s future.”
The Army reasserted that framework in its press release announcing the memorandum of understanding, which listed “social/behavioral components of culture” as one of six focus areas.
The language of cultural shift also appears in recent comments by Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, who signed the memorandum of understanding on behalf of the Army. While touring Net Zero programs at Fort Hood in Texas, Hammack said:
“I really admire the passion of the people I’ve met here. They love what they do, they know what right looks like, and they really want to make a difference. And those are wonderful, admirable characteristics that come from individuals who have the right kind of leadership that is giving them the direction to figure out what right looks like.”
Hammack is far from an outlier in the armed forces. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, for example, has made numerous public statements linking alternative energy policy with military sustainability, environmental protection and economic well-being.
Despite the military’s growing identification with sustainability principles in recent years, attacks on the EPA have reached such an extreme that William Reilly, head of the agency under former President George H.W. Bush, felt compelled last month to remind Republican leadership that the party “has an admirable record on environmental issues going back to Teddy Roosevelt.”
Unfortunately, Reilly is most likely whistling into the wind. Although the Republican Party’s growing disconnect with military energy policy undercuts its signature “support our troops” brand, there is no indication that party leadership will change its tune any time soon.