House defense bill chock-full of energy provisions

By Andres Picon | 06/13/2023 06:38 AM EDT

The House’s National Defense Authorization Act also addresses chemical contamination and critical minerals.

Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.).

House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) speaking with ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) during a hearing this year. Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

The House Armed Services Committee released sections of its fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act Monday, outlining mandates for the Pentagon to further embrace clean energy, address energy security issues and clean up contaminated military installations.

The plans illustrate a commitment by committee leaders to tackle some of the myriad environmental and energy-related issues that the Defense Department — the government’s highest-polluting agency — faces on its bases around the world.

“The FY24 NDAA puts our national security first by boosting innovation, providing for our warfighters, and focusing on our defense industrial base — supplying our military with the tools necessary to counter the unprecedented threats our nation faces from China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran,” said House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) in a statement.


Throughout the documents, lawmakers touted the benefits of clean, reliable energy for military operations, in one instance calling nuclear microreactors “critical to the future fight.”

The legislation would also increase funding for energy conservation and resilience, proposing more than $500 million in funding for energy-saving projects on military bases across the country, as well as in South Korea and Kuwait. Last year, House lawmakers proposed roughly $350 million for that purpose.

One provision would require the Army to conduct research and work to develop hybrid and battery-powered vertical take-off and landing vehicles.

Such “systems will enable more modern, versatile, and lethal power projection in support of Army” operations, reads the bill from the Subcommittee on Cyber, Information Technologies and Innovation.

Striking a more cautious tone, House lawmakers are also looking to address the risks that wind farms and their massive turbines might pose to military flight training routes. The Subcommittee on Readiness bill would require the Defense Department to submit a report on the agency’s efforts to mitigate the impact of wind energy infrastructure on training exercises.

“The committee is concerned that the additional proliferation of wind farms may lead to an unacceptable loss of low-level flight training routes … impacting the mission readiness of military aviators,” reads the draft bill.

The Readiness bill addresses critical minerals and metal reserves, with the panel noting concerns about foreign influence over the supply chains for the kinds of minerals needed to power electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines.

“The committee remains concerned that the Department of Defense lacks an adequate domestic supply of critical minerals and metals for leading edge defense capabilities,” the bill states.

Efforts to onshore mineral supply chains have enjoyed bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and have recently gained momentum, with lawmakers and the Biden administration eager to pull back on China’s dominance in that space.

The bill would require Defense to investigate opportunities for domestic public-private partnerships that would help grow existing national mineral and metal reserves.

Energy provisions

The House Armed Services Committee in the past has acknowledged the advantages that nuclear microreactors can bring to military operations, and lawmakers have funded related research.

The committee continued that drumbeat this week with a requirement that the Pentagon evaluate opportunities and costs related to the deployment of microreactors, including assessing challenges to securing the fuel needed to power them — another point of focus for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The Department of Energy says American microreactors, which are mobile sources of carbon-free energy, could be available as soon as the mid-2020s.

The bill summary calls them “a promising emerging technology to provide portable, safe, consistent, clean electric and thermal power, regardless of environmental or operational conditions.”

The United States uses Russian uranium to power about one-fifth of the country’s nuclear reactors. A provision in the Defense policy bill would expand efforts to eliminate the military’s reliance on Russian energy resources, including at all installations within the U.S. European Command.

The bill also would mandate a briefing on the use of areawide utility contracts for services such as electricity, thermal energy and water. The committee said such contracts may not be “utilized by the military departments to the maximum extent practicable to improve resiliency, reliability, and mission assurance.”

Lawmakers are also seeking to home in on energy storage, including battery safety and reliability.

The bill would require Defense to incentivize the development of technologies that prevent lithium-ion batteries from catching fire. The batteries power electric vehicles and have made headlines for their ability to combust and even reignite after contact with salt water or after catastrophic crashes.

Another measure would make the Pentagon conduct an analysis of potential energy storage alternatives for use by the Army on battlefields and in other environments. That includes the use of microgrids, which lawmakers and experts have touted for their ability to improve energy security.

PFAS, other pollution

House NDAA addressed per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a family of harmful chemical compounds that has been a consistent target for lawmakers in recent years.

The Defense Department has identified more than 700 military installations that are potentially contaminated with PFAS. Many of them may have been polluted by PFAS-containing firefighting foam, which the military has used for more than 50 years to put out jet fuel fires.

A bill summary released Monday would mandate that the agency train medical providers on the health effects of PFAS.

The committee also raised alarms about other contaminants such as trichloroethylene, benzene and lead, noting that, like PFAS, those pollutants are harmful and are often found on bases and in their drinking water supplies.

The Readiness draft bill would trigger an agency report on all the places that have contaminated drinking water and mandate a blueprint for cleanup efforts.

Other provisions

The so-called chairman’s mark of the bill, released Monday evening, included several additional measures regarding nuclear energy.

The bill would direct the National Nuclear Security Administration to develop uranium enrichment processes for Defense Department needs. Another section would prohibit the use of funds for a naval fuel system based on low-enriched uranium.