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climate change, defense contractors, DOD

Defense Contractors May Be the Key to Resilient Energy

Contractors can help make the US less dependent on fossil fuels faster.

Words: Steve Ellis
Pictures: Sander Weeteling

The Russian war against Ukraine, at NATO’s doorstep, underscores Europe’s vulnerability resulting from dependence on fossil fuels imported from Russia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022 and ongoing developments on the ground provide a sobering, tragic reminder to western democracies: Dependence on fossil fuels makes the US and its allies more vulnerable. This is not a new realization, especially for those who have been following climate change and advocating for clean energy in the US. While the US has continued to use fossil fuels as if there are no alternatives, there is a welcome — and necessary — shift occurring now. 

Last year, US intelligence agencies warned that climate change threatens our national security interests. Earlier this year, US Army Secretary Christine Wormuth declared point-blank in an official report that “climate change threatens America’s security.” Already, many US naval bases, such as Naval Station Norfolk, are suffering the impacts of rising sea levels, necessitating expensive remediation.

What are we waiting for? To protect our national security, maintain force readiness, and enhance our country’s long-term safety, the Pentagon must continue and accelerate its transition from inherently vulnerable fossil fuels to resilient (and lower-carbon) energy resources. And the key to a faster shift toward clean energy and enhancing the US’s energy resilience lies with defense contractors. 


The Department of Defense is the nation’s single largest consumer of energy, and is the world’s single largest institutional consumer of petroleum. With an annual budget of over $750 billion, representing over 3% of the entire nation’s gross domestic product, the Pentagon accounts for over 77% of the federal government’s total energy use, managing about 585,000 facilities spread over 27 million acres in 160 different countries.

Diversifying the Pentagon’s energy resources is a cost-effective and important part of protecting our national security in a politically volatile world — and defense contractors can speed up the transition.

The Pentagon’s reliance on fossil fuels underscores the importance of maintaining secure, resilient, and affordable energy supplies to protect our national security in this dangerous world. That is why I support the Pentagon’s longstanding efforts to fortify its energy resilience by investing in clean and abundant energy resources that are affordable, reliable, and secure against supply disruption. This is not do-goodism; planning for energy resilience goes to the essence of defending our nation’s long-term security and is long overdue.

Defense contractors are key. Given the Pentagon’s huge impact on the federal contracting community through its unrivaled purchasing power, I recommend using weighted criteria in Pentagon goods and services request of proposals (RFPs) to prioritize and incentivize contractors who practice methods to significantly reduce carbon emissions. This method of evaluation is already mandatory for negotiated procurements with some exceptions. But adding criteria that specifically evaluate contractors for their carbon reduction practices would drive cleaner practices and, eventually, make a wide impact.

Such weighting can move markets in ways that promote the Pentagon’s demanding requirements. For example, by using the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) to install energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies on base and leveraging programs to develop next-gen propulsion systems that do not run on fossil fuels, can speed up the transition to cleaner alternatives. As defense contractors compete to win these weighted contracts, their products and manufacturing techniques often become commercialized into the civilian marketplace, which in turn bolsters America’s international competitiveness, benefitting federal taxpayers. For examples, consumer GPS devices are a prime example of a technology designed for military use that has been successfully commercialized in the civilian economy.


A recent executive order directs the federal government to “lead by example in order to achieve a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050.” The executive order will reduce emissions across federal operations in a whole-of-government approach, and DOD is integrating climate change considerations across its strategic guidance and planning documents, including the National Defense Strategy, which will be released this year. This directive does allow agency heads to exempt particular activities if there is any sign of national security being compromised. While the bar for DOD to trigger such an exemption must be high, the defense secretary has made no move to ask for one, indicating the importance of energy resilience to our national security. 

The directive is not simply an important step but a necessary one for protecting US national security. Not only do inexhaustible, domestic clean energy resources enhance national security, but they also provide an important hedge for American taxpayers against the growing costs and risks of fossil fuels. A continued over-reliance on fossil fuels would increase taxpayers’ long-term liabilities as the many costs of producing, transporting, and defending these fuels continue their inexorable rise.

Fossil fuels cost money. Money talks, and the Pentagon spends a lot of it. Let’s use our tax dollars to encourage sustainable practices by the Pentagon and its contractors — common-sense practices that will protect our nation and every American who pays federal taxes.

The bottom line remains: Diversifying the Pentagon’s energy resources is a cost-effective and important part of protecting our national security in a politically volatile world.

Steve Ellis is the president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, which is a nonpartisan budget watchdog that has served as an independent voice for the American taxpayer since 1995. It works to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and that the government operates within its means.

Steve Ellis

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