The Pentagon's electric future


Sen. Joe Manchin’s environmental permitting overhaul may not have made it into the National Defense Authorization Act, but the must-pass defense bill contains another provision with huge implications for energy.

The Defense Department would have to shift all non-combat vehicles to alternative fuels by 2035 under the current version of the NDAA. That encompasses as many as 180,000 vehicles — no small potatoes, despite the requirement’s exclusion of tanks and other vehicles used for war.

The provision builds on years of work by Congress and the executive branch to limit the climate impact of the U.S. military, arguably the world’s single worst polluter as the largest institutional consumer of petroleum. In 2017, the DoD emitted more greenhouse gases than many small industrialized countries, including Sweden and Finland.

“It’s time for the military to get on with the future,” said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), one of the authors of the provision.

The policy rider is one of many in the defense bill, which like all must-pass legislation has become a catch-all for lawmakers’ priorities.

That’s why Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, wanted to use the bill to pass his proposal to fast-track the permitting of energy and infrastructure projects. Opposition from both progressives and Republicans has doomed that effort. Manchin is still trying to get a vote on his permitting bill before the end of this year, but his chances look slim.

In addition to the alternative fuel provision, the current version of the NDAA carries the Water Resources Development Act, which would broaden the mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to let it work on new kinds of climate change adaptation projects. That could help coastal and Great Lakes states deal with the impacts of sea-level rise and shoreline erosion.

The NDAA passed the House on Thursday, and the Senate is expected to clear it before the end of the year.

Here’s how the DoD provision will likely play out: The department can switch its non-combat vehicles to run on electricity, hydrogen or biofuels. But it is likely to favor electric vehicles, because that’s the direction the commercial market is going, said a Senate aide who worked on the bill and was granted anonymity to discuss the provision candidly.

Electric vehicles used on base also have tactical benefits, the aide said, because they operate quietly and can plug into the grid to be used as a backup power source. That helped garner bipartisan support as the House and Senate Armed Services committees negotiated the bill, according to the aide.

“Greenhouse gas emissions reduction is a benefit, but the primary function was geared towards the mission,” the aide said.

Garamendi predicts the military will jump on the opportunity to go electric — and be interested in hybrid and electric combat vehicles, as well. The provision essentially codifies the direction the Pentagon is already headed, as it works to meet Biden administration directives to reduce the federal government’s emissions.

It’s Thursday! — Thank you for tuning into POLITICO’s Power Switch.  I’m your host, Nick Sobczyk, with reporting help from Nico Portuondo. Arianna Skibell will be back soon! Power Switch is brought to you by the journalists behind E&E News and POLITICO Energy. Send your tips, comments and questions to [email protected].

Today in POLITICO Energy’s podcast: Josh Siegel breaks down what’s next for permitting after Manchin’s failed effort.

A greener government
The military isn’t the only part of the federal government that might get greener in the coming years.

The White House on Wednesday announced a new suite of policies aimed at reducing emissions from federal buildings. It builds on the Biden administration’s “Buy Clean” initiative, which directs agencies to prioritize U.S.-made low-carbon materials for federal construction projects.

Such policies are part of President Joe Biden’s plan to use the government’s vast purchasing power to create a lower-carbon economy and expand the U.S. clean energy industry. But experts say Biden will need help from state governments and the private sector to hit net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“This guy’s been in politics for a long time and understands how these things work, and so for sure they’re trying to design these policies so that they do have a lasting impact,” said Victor Olgyay, who leads the carbon-free buildings program at the environmental think tank RMI. “Part of that is ensuring that the private sector recognizes the benefits and incorporates them into their business models.”

Read more here from POLITICO E&E’s Corbin Hiar and Kelsey Brugger.

Power flex
Democrats’ expanded Senate majority means they will be able to more easily move legislation and confirm nominees to agencies like EPA and the Department of Energy, write Timothy Cama and Marc Heller.

Manchin’s power to sway a vote may be diminished with the reelection of Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. But Manchin nonetheless said the new 51-49 margin will be “very helpful to get things done.”

Trading barbs
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola cautioned Wednesday that her region could slip into a trade war with the United States, write Eddy Wax and Jamil Anderlini.

The cross-Atlantic tension stems from the massive suite of clean energy and electric vehicle incentives enacted in the Inflation Reduction Act, which European leaders see as protectionist.

Guess who’s back: The United Kingdom has approved its first coal mine in three decades, prompting fury from environmentalists.

Germany’s impossible task: The German government is attempting to build a new liquefied natural gas import terminal, a process that typically takes five years, in a matter of months after getting cut off from Russian LNG.

A showcase of some of our best subscriber content.

The suite of subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Actis threatening to suck electric vehicle investments away from Europe.

Texas lawmakers have subpoenaed BlackRock Inc. for information about the company’s sustainable investment strategies.

The average price of lithium-ion battery packs has risen for the first time due to the rising cost of materials amid inflation and surging demand.

That’s all for today, folks. Thanks for reading!

CORRECTION: An earlier version of Power Switch incorrectly described a coal project that is inspiring fury from environmentalists. It is the United Kingdom’s first coal mine in three decades.


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