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Environmental Defense Fund Reception (Energy, Security, and the Environment)

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Renwick Gallery, Washington D.C., Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Thank you, Carl.  It’s a great privilege to be able to be here with so many important leaders and friends from government, from industry, and from the private sector.  

I’d like to especially thank Fred Krupp for inviting me to speak, and for choosing to honor the Department of Defense.  It’s a great honor not only for me as Secretary of Defense, but it is also a great honor for the men and women of the Department who work every day to protect our country and who are willing to put their lives on the line to give our children a better life. 

That’s what DoD is all about, and Fred, that’s what your organization has been all about, as well.  You have made the Environmental Defense Fund a leading force for protecting the environment and for harnessing market forces to preserve our quality of life. 

As someone who grew up in Monterey, California, which as many of you know is world famous for its beautiful coastline and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, I’ve had a life-long interest in protecting our nation’s precious resources.  And I’ve had the opportunity to work with many of you, this organization, and many other organizations in my different capacities in government:  as a Member of Congress, as Chief of Staff to President Clinton, as Director of the CIA, where we worked to develop an area there to look at environmental issues, and now as Secretary of Defense. 

And though we are looking at environmental issues, these days I’m a little more focused on the operations of a different kind of SEALs.

As Secretary of Defense, I am honored that the Environmental Defense Fund would honor the Department of Defense.  The U.S. military has a long and a very proud record when it comes to helping conserve our nation’s natural heritage. 

In the 19th Century, military expeditions helped discover, map, and describe the coasts, rivers, and very interiors of our country.

In the 20th Century, the armed services acquired vast tracts of land.  But in that process of acquiring that land, it had to develop innovative natural resource stewardship in order to ensure that troops training there did so in areas that were not only there for training but were also there to be protected, as well. 

DoD installations, which today cover nearly 30 million acres of land and are home to more than 400 endangered species, are a rich natural treasure we hold in trust for the country.  In my own community of Monterey, one of the few remaining expanses of open space is the former Fort Ord.  I’m proud that two weeks ago, we were able to get Fort Ord declared a national monument by President Obama, a step which will help ensure that that area is preserved for future generations.

This is a legacy to celebrate.  And I want those gathered here tonight to know that the Department of Defense is determined to play this same role in the 21st Century.  We are working to be a leader and an innovator in environmental stewardship, energy efficiency and energy security. 

Our mission at the Department is to secure this nation against threats to our homeland and to our people.  In the 21st Century, the reality is that there are environmental threats which constitute threats to our national security.  For example, the area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security:  rising sea levels, to severe droughts, to the melting of the polar caps, to more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. 

I was pointing out the other day that with the polar cap melting, we now have problems with regard to who claims the area in the polar region.  And very frankly, one of the things I hope we get a chance to work on is to finally get the United States of America to approve the Law of the Seas treaty, which has been hanging out there for so long.  We are the only industrialized nation that has not approved that treaty.  It’s time that we did that. 

The quest for energy is another area that continues to shape and reshape the strategic environment – from the destabilizing consequences of resource competition to the efforts of potential adversaries to block the free flow of energy.  

These strategic and practical considerations weigh heavily on us at the Department of Defense.  They weighed heavily on us as we developed our new defense strategy.  In crafting that strategy, we decided that this could not just be an exercise in budget cutting. 

It had to give us the opportunity to look to the future, and decide what is the Defense Department going to be, not only today but in the future.   And that meant we have to be efficient, we have to be innovative, and we have to invest in the technologies of the future. 

As one of the largest landowners and energy consumers in the world, our drive is to be more efficient and environmentally sustainable.  We have to be able to have the potential to transform the nation’s approach to the challenges we are facing in the environment and energy security.  We’ve got to look ahead to try to see how we can best achieve that.    

Teddy Roosevelt once said that “in utilizing and conserving the natural resources of the Nation, the one characteristic more essential than any other is foresight.”

One of the greatest strengths of the Department of Defense is our foresight.  We take the long-term view – we have to take the long-term view – in everything we do.  We must have the ability to adopt new technologies.

In the next fiscal year, we are investing more than $1 billion in more efficient aircraft and aircraft engines; hybrid electric drives for ships; improved generators and micro-grids for combat bases; and combat vehicle energy efficiency programs.  We are investing another $1 billion to make our installations here at home more energy efficient, and we are using them as a test bed to demonstrate next-generation energy technologies.

Meanwhile, the Army, Navy, and Air Force have committed to adding about three gigawatts of renewable energy to installations in the coming years – one of the largest commitments to clean energy in the nation’s history. 

As someone who now faces – and this is one of those bitter facts you confront at a place like the Department of Defense – we now face a budget shortfall exceeding $3 billion because of higher than expected fuel costs this year.  I have more than a deep interest in more sustainable and efficient energy options. 

I have  a deep interest in working to try to ensure from a security perspective that we take measures will help facilitate and maintain power in the event of an interruption of the commercial grid that could be caused, for example, by a cyberattack.  That’s just a reality that we have to confront these days. 

We have also led, in partnership with you and other environmental organizations, in developing an innovative and robust land management program.  We have learned that managing these lands for environmental reasons goes hand-and-hand with managing for military readiness. 

Let me assure you that DoD is helping to lead this nation when it comes to preserving our environment and building a more sustainable and secure energy future.  I know you'll have the opportunity tonight to hear from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on the Navy's innovative efforts on clean energy and the environment.  Through these and other visionary initiatives, I believe we are making the country more secure and protecting our national resources.

That’s our mission, that’s our goal, and that is the key to giving our children a better life in the 21st Century.  

I’ve often told the story about asking my father, because I am the son of Italian immigrants, “Why did you travel all of that distance to come to this country?" They were from a poor area of Italy, but they had the comfort of family.  Why did you leave all of that and travel all that distance?  ...No money, no skills, no language ability, to a strange land.  My father said the reason they did it was because my mother and he believed they could give their children a better life. 

That is the American dream.  It is what we want for our children and hopefully what our children will want for their children. 

And in many ways it’s the mission we have at the Department of Defense, which is to give our children a better life.  That mission, working with you, working with this group, working with so many others, is that we have to develop a partnership that forges a better, cleaner, and safer world for the future, in order to ensure that our children have that better life.

Thank you very much. 

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