When he was sworn into office, President Obama made a commitment to moving America toward a new energy future, combating global warming and building a 21st century green economy. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of the Navy are delivering on that pledge by working together to reduce America's consumption of fossil fuels and increase production of home-grown, renewable energy.
President Obama explained the rationale for our partnership in a recent speech at Andrews Air Force Base: "Our military leaders recognize the security imperative of increasing the use of alternative fuels … Moving toward clean energy is about our security. It's about our economy. And it's about the future of our planet."
Recently, the Navy took an exciting step towards a clean energy future when it launched the "Green Hornet" – on a supersonic test of an F/A-18 tactical attack aircraft powered by a grain-based blend of camelina biofuel and traditional jet fuel. The flight of the Green Hornet follows on the heels of our pledge, in January, to share our Department's knowledge and experience to speed the development, use and commercialization of renewable energy.
Only three short months later, we have launched our partnership in full with an energy forum in Hawaii, a state that is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, but which currently relies on imported oil for 90 percent of its energy, and has some of the highest energy costs in the nation.
In Hawaii – and in similar on-the-ground partnerships across the country – we will have a coordinated Federal effort to make our military more flexible as leading users of renewable energy. Our growing partnership and our cooperation with industry and other federal agencies like the Department of Energy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, seek to answer one of the central questions of energy security: How will we move the United States away from an overreliance on the fragile global oil infrastructure?
As the president said, changing the way we use and produce energy is not only a critical step to guarantee our national security but is essential to America's economic future.
Producing renewable energy here at home will create good jobs– especially in rural communities across America. And advanced biofuels, produced from feedstocks other than corn – like those that power the Green Hornet – will play a critical role. Right now, we are learning to produce biofuels from agricultural waste, and from crops like perennial grasses, woody plants, energy cane and camelina that can be grown in rotation with other crops in fields across the country that would otherwise lie fallow. These innovative technologies will offer farmers and ranchers new income opportunities and help their local economies flourish.
As the Green Hornet will demonstrate, our nation's farms, forests, and fields have the capacity to lead us to energy independence. In combination with other alternative energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydrothermal energy, there is a new economy in these technologies and the products they yield that has only begun to be tapped.
As the rest of the world moves forward in this new energy economy, America simply cannot afford to be left behind.
The USDA-Navy partnership will play a role in building this future. USDA's research arms are working on science to speed the development and commercialization of advanced biofuels. And we are supporting commercial biofuels operations with financial and technical support. These options and more were on the table in Hawaii as we discussed a way forward for renewable energy in that state.
The Navy and Marine Corps alone account for almost a third of the petroleum used by the entire Federal Government. The government, in turn, uses almost two percent of the petroleum consumed in the entire United States. In order to change this calculus, we have set an ambitious goal: by 2020, the Navy and Marine Corps will power 50 percent of our energy needs for all purposes through use of alternative fuels.
As we move the Department of the Navy's 286 ships, 3,800 aircraft, and 900,000 personnel towards greater use of renewable energy, demand and production will increase, producing economies of scale that will build necessary infrastructure and bring down costs.
As we do so, biofuels will break our reliance on foreign energy supplies that often come from volatile areas of the world susceptible to price and supply shocks outside our control.
Biofuels represent a clear national security and economic opportunity for the United States. In conjunction with new alternative energy technologies, biofuels will lead our country to strategic energy independence. That is why we have formed this partnership to take full advantage of the capacity of our Departments to lead change towards a more environmentally sound and energy secure future. By working towards a new energy economy, we are choosing to invest in American science, American ingenuity, and American farmers to meet and overcome the global economic and energy challenges that confront us.
Tom Vilsack is Secretary of Agriculture; Ray Mabus is Secretary of the Navy