Truman National Security Project

Energy, not Syria, is worthy of military’s attention


As a veteran now serving in clean energy, using military force in Syria and further involving ourselves in the Middle East is a distraction from domestic priorities that require national attention and appropriations now.

We need to focus on energy security as a top priority and take steps away from our dependence on this unstable region, the instabilities that flow from it, the financial drain it creates on future generations, and invest our capital in our aging critical energy infrastructure.

As a relevant example, we need to modernize and rehabilitate our hydropower generation fleet on the Columbia River System and across the nation to spin into the 21st Century with modern technology and show the world our commitment to clean energy and innovation. More than 50 years ago, our dams were built with the best engineering and construction standards in the world.

Today, our nation’s dams — and their potential contribution to creating a clean energy economy — are largely forgotten and in disrepair. However, significant investment in hydropower will pay for itself many times over, continue to integrate existing and future renewable resources, create jobs and continue to provide low-cost energy and revenue to the Northwest.

To compound recent events related to energy security, a new report issued by the Department of Energy, the nation’s energy infrastructure is highly vulnerable to weather-related outages. To folks in the energy security world, this report is hardly ground breaking news – after all, it’s no secret that in this country, we rely upon a grid system that is over 40 years old and in serious need of an infrastructure makeover.

But this report, titled “U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather,” didn’t just provide an overview of the existing failures in our system. It elevated the added threat climate change and the rising number of extreme weather events pose to our grid and the future of our electricity sector.

Senior military leaders and national security experts have identified climate change as a national security threat. Rising sea levels and more frequent and extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes, will disrupt populations all across the globe, creating millions of climate refugees and destabilizing regions with weak government capacity or rule of law to near constant crisis.

As the United States reasserts itself within the global community as a leader in support of burgeoning democracies and an economic partner with emerging nations to encourage robust growth, the impacts of climate change and growing strain around the energy-water nexus will attempt to undo these positive gains.

But to warrant and finance an overhaul of our energy infrastructure, policy makers, the private sector, and the public must all be in agreement that the cost of energy security outweighs the cost of the investment to modernize the electric grid, boost efficiency and strengthen resiliency.

With these investments, we can free ourselves of our dependence upon the Middle East and reinvigorate our stagnant economy and the Middle Class with clean, reliable, low-cost energy.

Unfortunately, the average American rarely thinks twice about where our energy is produced or the complicated distribution system that powers our homes and businesses, just so long as the lights turn on and it is relatively inexpensive. The threat factor is not visible.

But what happens when the lights don’t turn on? What happens when a Super Storm Sandy tears through the Northeast leaving millions of Americans without power for days, or in extreme cases, weeks? Suddenly energy and access to electricity has never seemed more important.

For the military, losing power for any period of time can jeopardize critical missions and limit operational capabilities. Without power, our military installations are unable to operate and provide assistance to neighboring communities during a natural disaster or a cyber attack on our grid system.

Energy security should be a top budget priority. Perhaps proactive-steps to address these vulnerabilities will only be made when the threat is undeniable and the costs of inaction unavoidable. For our national and economic security, I hope that we can come together as Americans to address this problem before we endure another natural disaster or continue to entangle ourselves in costly wars and interventions in the Middle East.

The solutions are available. It’s now time to act and invest close to home and not abroad.


Nate Sandvig is a Truman Project Defense Council Member. This post originally appeared in Sustainable Business Oregon