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Tina Casey headshot

National Defense and President Obama's 2013 Clean Energy Budget

By Tina Casey

As far as clean energy and green jobs go, President Obama's 2013 budget  includes a Christmas-in-July package of initiatives that are designed to help pull the U.S. out of recession while transitioning the economy to cleaner, safer, more reliable and less price-spikey forms of energy. Those last two items - price and reliability of supply - are especially important to the Department of Defense, which will see its rate of growth slow dramatically under the new budget.

In that light, the President's clean energy package goes beyond a boost for domestic economic health. It will also play an important role in U.S. defense operations overseas, especially as actions in the Middle East draw down and attention pivots to the Asia-Pacific region.

The 2013 budget and new green jobs

Daniel Weiss over at Think Progress provides a good rundown of the impacts of the clean energy package. Along with environment-related public health and global warming initiatives, it includes tax credits and other forms of assistance for wind, solar and other renewable energy companies, and more funding for research and development for renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced manufacturing technologies.

That all adds up to tens of thousands of new green jobs, many of which are in traditional union trades, such as electrician and mechanic, which will create new opportunities for reviving the blue collar middle class.

The new budget also includes about $1 billion in an energy package for the military that focuses on renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades. Aside from creating thousands more green jobs in the U.S., it will provide a big boost for programs like the Air Force's jet biofuels initiative, the Navy's Green Fleet, and the Army's Net Zero goal of powering its bases with renewable on-site or locally-sourced energy.

Clean energy over there

The Department of Defense also has been introducing solar power and other new technologies to its overseas bases and to ground operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, even in combat zones, and this is where it starts to get really interesting.

Until now, U.S. energy security strategy has focused on securing access to the global petroleum supply. However, just within the past couple of weeks there have been some strong hints that the U.S. is also turning its attention to securing renewable energy supplies in key strategic regions.

Namely, as the U.S. strategy shifts from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region, Australia is emerging as an important future source of renewable biofuel.

Australia, biofuels and U.S. national defense

Australia was a linchpin of America's operations in the Asia-Pacific during World War II, and President Obama appears to be ensuring that the country is a solid partner as the U.S. once again ramps up its presence in the region.

In terms of Australia as a source of biofuel, the country has been heavily engaged in biofuel development and earlier this month Chris Tindal, the Navy’s Director for Operational Energy, toured the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology to promote America's interest in drop-in biofuels.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy has partnered with the U.S. algae biofuel company OriginOil to develop algae-derived oil as an energy-boosting additive to drop-in biofuels. To that end, OriginOil has formed a joint venture with an Australian subsidiary to develop biorefineries in “strategic locations around the world,” initially focusing on the U.S. and Australia.

Et tu, Keystone?

President Obama's Asia-Pacific strategy - including the Australian biofuels angle -  is a response to China's influence in the region, and keep that in mind as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper works on a deal to export Canada's tar sands oil to China. Republican legislators in Congress have certainly been trying to make it a lot easier for Canada to sell oil to China, by attempting to maneuver around President Obama's refusal to grant a construction permit for the Keystone XL pipline. Not so certain is how much that kind of thoughtfulness would be appreciated by the U.S. Navy.

Image: U.S. gold coin. License Some rights reserved by kevin dooley

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey