Chuck Hagel at Defense? Energy, climate activists intrigued.

Chuck Hagel is President Obama's pick as the next secretary of defense. The former Republican senator's views on climate change and national security could bode well for clean-tech advocates.

Lauren Victoria Burke/File/AP
In this June 2008 file photo, then Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska (R), speaks on foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Despite questioning human impact on climate change, Hagel has called for assessing global warming's threat to national security.

Some environmentalists and clean-energy advocates like the sound of "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel."

It might seem a curious stance, given Mr. Hagel's past. He's been skeptical of claims that humans have had that much impact on global warming. As a Republican senator from Nebraska, he cosponsored a 1997 resolution to stop US participation in the Kyoto Protocol, which passed the Senate 95 to 0.

But the new Chuck Hagel is sounding a different theme – that energy, environment, and economic security are inextricably intertwined. For activists worried about climate change and clean-tech companies eager to sell their technology, the prospect of having Hagel head the nation's biggest energy consumer – the Department of Defense – is intriguing.

"I would expect that [Hagel] would respect the analyses that show, from the military's point of view, the threat multiplication from climate change impact," David Doniger, policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate and Clean Air Program, told ClimateWire. "Nothing tells me that he would be in any way hostile to those positions."

The linking of climate with defense works in two ways. Under the direction of current secretary Leon Panetta, the Department of Defense has flagged energy as a top-level defense issue – both in the effect of climate change on global stability as well as the growing cost of the military's energy consumption. 

In 2010, the DOD consumed nearly 5 billion gallons of petroleum in military operations, at a cost of $13.2 billion.

The department's proposed 2013 budget calls for $9 billion in improved energy usage between fiscal years 2013 and 2017. Colorado-based Pike Research expects the military will spend almost $1.8 billion by 2025 on renewable energy programs alone. 

Hagel's recent track record suggests an interest in continuing the DOD's work on energy innovation.

"I don’t think you can separate environmental policy from economic policy or energy policy," Hagel told Grist, an environmental news website, in a 2005 interview. "They are circles of connection and they overlap each other. You can’t have economic growth without energy, and you can’t talk about the use of oil, coal, and natural gas without talking about environmental policy, because those carbon-based energy sources emit carbon, and that’s not good. The only way you can realistically deal with these issues is to come up with policy that integrates all three."

The remarks came on the heels of three bills introduced by the senator, aimed at spurring clean-technology innovation. The bills, passed as amendments to the 2005 Energy Policy Act, included authorization for the Department of Energy’s clean-technology loan-guarantee program.

Also, Hagel has been one of the most vocal proponents of assessing climate change as a national security threat.

In 2007, he and Sen. Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois worked on legislation calling for a multi-agency National Intelligence Estimate on threats posed by extreme weather events associated with climate change. The resulting amendment never won Senate approval, but the intelligence community went ahead with a report, anyway. Thomas Fingar, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, summarized the findings in a 2008 testimony before Congress: 

The United States depends on a smooth-functioning international system ensuring the flow of trade and market access to critical raw materials such as oil and gas, and security for its allies and partners.  Climate change and climate change policies could affect all of these – domestic stability in a number of key states, the opening of new sea lanes and access to raw materials, and the global economy more broadly – with significant geopolitical consequences.  

Stronger storms, rising energy demand, infrastructure disruptions, and immigration spikes all pose potential climate-change-related threats to national security, the assessment found.

Hagel concurred:

America and the world face unprecedented, complex and interconnected 21st Century challenges. Environmental issues will continue to have unpredictable and destabilizing effects on developing and developed countries alike.

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