An energy-lobbying group led by former top military brass is working to put a more macho face on alternative energy policies long associated with environmental activists, including electric car advocacy and federally mandated efficiency standards.
Securing America’s Future Energy, which has a leadership council made up of former military leaders and business executives, says America’s reliance on foreign oil markets undermines U.S. national security.
"My experience on the Joint Chiefs of Staff was that we started to take into consideration more economic factors than we ever had before. Traditionally as a military, economic considerations are not one of your variables as you examine courses of action, but now they are," General James Conway, a SAFE leadership council member who served as 34th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, told the Washington Free Beacon.
According to Conway, U.S. concerns about the stability of the global oil market impacted national security decisions after the 9/11 attacks and could factor into decisions regarding Iran.
"You have to play it out—if we do this, what will be the Iranian response?" said Gen. Conway. "If that response is to shut down the Hormuz Straits and interrupt the supply of oil, then we’ve got a global catastrophe."
"If we weren’t consuming the huge amounts of oil that we did and Saudi Arabia wasn’t such an avid supplier, when 13 out of the 19 people who attack the towers were Saudis, do you think that we would not have done something? It’s just impossible to even consider that," Conway added.
Conway said the 2011 price hike from the disruption in Libyan oil exports, which make up just 2 percent of the world oil market, highlights America’s "economic vulnerability" on energy.
"You remember what happened when we lost 2 percent of the Libyan oil," said Conway. "If you multiply that times ten, you got what we would call an oil shock to the whole world, not just to the United States. But our economy would have some really rough roads to negotiate to get out of that."
The problem, according to SAFE, is that domestic oil prices depend on Middle East regional stability and artificial prices.
"It’s a global market, but it’s not a free market," said Conway.
SAFE advocates federal investments in alternative energy research and development, tax credits for electric vehicles and increased domestic production of natural gas and coal. The group has spent $1.5 million on lobbying since 2009.
"SAFE is not in favor of government money to specific companies," said Jonathan Baron, whose public affairs firm represents SAFE. "It supports trying to figure out ways to identify and incentivize the technology, and then let providers offer that to the marketplace."
The organization considers itself a middle-ground between environmental groups that support alternative energy policies as a way to decrease carbon emissions and conservative groups that support increased domestic energy production but oppose federal subsidies for "green" technologies.
SAFE’s leadership council includes numerous business leaders who could benefit financially from the group’s policy proposals.
The council’s co-chair Frederick Smith is the CEO of FedEx, a company that supports electric vehicles as a way to cut down on its fuel costs.
"The operating costs per mile are already about 70 percent less than ICE (internal combustion engine) powered vehicles," Smith told the National Association for Business Economists in May 2012.
While FedEx has started introducing electric cars into its fleet, Smith has cited the steep upfront cost of the vehicles as a concern.
Another council member is Admiral Vern Clark, who serves on the board of directors of Rolls Royce North America and Raytheon Corporation, which has been working to develop battery-powered vehicles.
The council also includes Coca-Cola CEO Steve Cahillane, whose company has started introducing electric vehicles to its fleet to cut down on distribution costs; top executives at L-3 Communications, which manufactures electric engines; and Adam Goldstein, president of Royal Caribbean International, which has been impacted by oil price spikes in recent years.
The founder of Southwest Airlines Co. and the head of travel technology powerhouse Sabre Holdings are also on the council.
SAFE recently released a report that found "tight oil markets and oil dependence have dissuaded Western nations from implementing stronger measures aimed at curtailing Iran’s nuclear activities" and proposed that "2013 will present a temporary window to implement measures with the potential to deter Iran’s development of nuclear weapons without causing significant oil market volatility."