Operation Free, a coalition of veterans and national security groups promoting the relationship between national security and dependence on foreign energy, made a stop in downtown Reno on Tuesday to talk about the issue. The group that came is part of the “Veterans for American Power” 21-city bus tour and met with Jim Groth, director of the Nevada Energy Office and other veterans and concerned citizens.
Among the touring veterans was Robin Eckstein, of Appleton, Wis., who served in Iraq in 2003. As a member of the National Guard Reserve, it was Eckstein’s job to drive refueling trucks to remote military installations for their generators and vehicles. Every time she drove into the desert, she said, there was the threat of attack on herself and fellow soldiers.
Her connection to war and energy was twofold, she said. She was participating in a military operation in oil-rich territory and she was risking life and limb to bring fuel to troops fighting that war. More solar energy technology being used in the field by the military would have meant fewer trips into harm’s way, she said, and less dependence on foreign oil might have precluded her from being there in the first place.
“As a veteran myself you say ‘national security’ and ‘climate change’ and I get it,” she said, adding that the military has initiated some major steps toward energy efficiency in its operations. “Some people need the pieces put together for them.”
Eckstein was among half a dozen veterans to talk Wednesday near the Truckee River about their experiences. Chuck Tyler, a native of Virginia who served in the Army for 10 years, talked about helping the victims of Hurricane Floyd in 1999 on the East Coast and about his experience in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom. Both climate change leading to natural disasters and conflicts in unstable parts of the world made the work more dangerous, he said.
“Desperate people with no food, no water and no means to take care of themselves become tomorrow’s insurgents,” he said.
“The U.S. spends $1 billion a day buying crude oil from other countries, which puts money into the hands of those that don’t support us and increases the dangers to our troops,” Operation Free campaign manager and Marine veteran Jonathan Murray said in a press release. “In a world faced with the unfortunate reality of spontaneous terrorist threats, Operation Free calls attention to the way in which energy independence makes our world more stable and less dangerous.”
Operation Free was formed in part to support the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on June 26, 2009 but stalled in the Senate. It would have, among other things, required retail electricity suppliers to meet 20 percent of their demand through renewable electricity as well as electricity savings by 2020 and established a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions.
Politics is the major obstacle for any meaningful environmental legislation, said John Scire, a longtime Sparks resident and professor of environmental policy and international conflict at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“I don’t think we can get anything through until Republicans stop voting as a block and vote on individual issues,” Scire said after Tuesday’s Operation Free gathering.
Scire went on to say that Nevada will have a difficult time attracting companies to come here and set up solar and other renewable energy production facilities. First, he said, Nevada has has to compete with states like Ohio and Massachusetts where there are empty manufacturing plants already built and a skilled workforce in place to operate such energy production. Also, he said, the state already imposes very little in taxes on such business which means Nevada has little ability to offer further financial incentives. Finally, he pointed to a sub par education system and labor force in the Silver State.
“When they look at the university system, especially the community colleges where students learn technical skills, (companies) get no warm fuzzy feeling,” Scire said. “They set up knowing they have to bring in everyone.”
As director of the state’s energy office, Groth said he is working to bring companies like Chevron and British Petroleum here but echoed that Nevada faces challenges, especially when competing against other states that also want the business. With enough investment, Nevada could be producing three times its current output of geothermal power and five times its solar energy output, he said.
“In order to have a secure future, America needs to return energy production to America,” said Chaney Harrison, who served three tours in Iraq in the Air Force. “We need to put Americans to work producing energy in this country.”
The veterans of Operation Free were not stumping for any particular state, but rather to bring energy-producing jobs to America. Patrick Bellon, a Louisiana native and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, said this message is not new but that people tend to pay more attention when veterans are the ones sending it.
“If there are fewer wars, there will be fewer veterans,” Bellon said. “We’ll all be out of a job, but that’s better, right?”
For more information, visit www.operationfree.net.