IN an era of climate consequences, the strength of our nation and our position in the world is directly dependent on our ability to build safe, secure and strong communities at home. Climate security is mission critical for our domestic and foreign policy.
Speaking directly to the graduating cadets at West Point last week, the president called climate change “a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we’re called on to respond to refugee flows, natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food.”
“Next year,” he continued, “I intend to make sure America is out front in putting together a global framework to preserve our planet.”
Here at home, the commander in chief is not waiting to act on climate. On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency released its set of rules to limit carbon pollution from existing coal-fired plants across the country — collectively the largest source of climate pollution in America. That includes Colstrip in Montana, from which Washington and other Northwest states receive substantial amounts of “coal-by-wire” energy. While there are limits on emissions of arsenic, mercury, lead, sulfur and soot, there are no federal limits at all on carbon pollution. Until now.
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The EPA action is the clearest and most basic statement of our shared commitment to a more secure future for our children and grandchildren, and it sends a clear signal to the rest of the world: We’re starting to get serious about climate pollution.
Both the U.S. State Department and the Department of Defense acknowledge that climate change is a clear and present danger to our national security. Acting as a threat multiplier, climate change is further destabilizing regions facing hunger, poverty and weak infrastructure, pushing them to near constant crisis. Our armed forces simply don’t have the luxury to debate the risks our nation faces, they must prepare to meet them.
Military analysts also indicate that relying on fossil fuels alone for fuel and energy supply is a strategic risk. That’s why the Defense Department is moving forward on the solutions front, investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, like wind, solar and advanced biofuels.
Here in Washington, Joint Base Lewis-McChord will become one of the first secured military installations that is net-zero in energy use, water use and waste by 2020. Not to be outdone, Naval Station Everett and Naval Base Kitsap are national award-winners in on-base energy conservation and sustainability. The military is preparing for the future security environment, and adopting clean energy measures because they make us better able to defend and promote our interests in a climate-changed world.
The direct links between the armed forces and the clean-energy economy extend beyond active service and represent an emerging story in Washington and across the nation. Our returning men and women are going back to work in skilled, clean energy jobs at rates that well outpace national averages for other industries. As examples, nearly 10 percent of the solar industry is made up of veterans, and at EDP Renewables North America, one of the nation’s leading wind-energy developers, roughly one-third of employees have served in the Armed Forces.
The new EPA rules on carbon pollution offer our state a great opportunity to remain on the front lines of the clean-energy economy for veterans and all Washingtonians. Our state is already phasing out the TransAlta power plant in Centralia, the last remaining in-state coal plant, and Washington has a real opportunity to end its use of “coal-by-wire” energy. Additionally, local communities are gaining ground on efforts to stop the authorization of new coal terminals on Washington’s coast, which would export coal to Asia.
Working together, Pacific Northwest states can become America’s first coal-free, clean-energy-powered region. By developing state-specific actions, Washington and other Northwest states can comply with the EPA rules in ways that end our reliance on coal and drive new investment, new job creation and a more secure energy future.
Gov. Jay Inslee has started on a path to explore new climate and clean energy strategies. We hope the Legislature can follow suit and build lasting success in Washington, and be a model for the nation.
Jonathan Hopkins is a West Point graduate and former Army captain and was deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan. He now lives in Seattle. Chris Bast is the business partnerships manager at Climate Solutions in Seattle. Both authors are fellows with the Truman National Security Project.