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Will The Pentagon Start Buying Greener Weapons?

Last week, I linked to a story about the White House floating an executive order that, if finalized, would force the federal government to slash its greenhouse-gas emissions 20 percent by 2020. That'd be a big deal if it pans out, but the draft order's still circulating. On a related note, though, InsideEPA has another excellent report today on how, with that draft order looming, the Pentagon's mulling changes in its acquisition rules that would take energy consumption into account:

The draft order could also revive long-standing concerns from DOD over spending restrictions currently enshrined in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which generally require agencies to procure the most cost-effective goods and services.

DOD officials have long argued that such approaches hamper their ability to procure low-carbon technologies, which often have high upfront costs and do not achieve significant savings, making it difficult for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) to approve under their current budget scoring approaches. ...

Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief Ashton Carter ... told an audience of leading military policy experts that energy will be a key driver of military purchasing decisions under the current administration. Specifically, the department is working to incorporate the fully-burdened cost of fuel—the true cost of delivering fuel to the military end user—into acquisition decisions, which would militate toward lower energy consumption in vehicles and systems.

To put this in context, the U.S. military is the world's single biggest oil buyer, and accounts for about 80 percent of the federal government's energy demand (and about 1 percent of all U.S. demand). And, for the past few years, the Pentagon has been contemplating an energy diet. It's easy to see the motivation here: In 2008, the military shelled out about $20 billion for energy, more than double the $10.9 spent in 2006, thanks to the spike in oil prices, and no one in the Pentagon sounded terribly thrilled with writing a $10 billion check to the Middle East.

On top of that, in recent years, military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan have been saying they'd like to reduce their reliance on fuel convoys, which have been frequently targeted, put soldiers in danger, and divert resources from other operations. There's been a lot of interest in wind power and electric vehicles, in particular. Now, every time stories like these are written, military officials are all protesting that they're not hippie environmentalists. Okay, fine, but all signs are still pointing in an undeniably greener direction.

--Bradford Plumer