By Patrick Fitzgerald
A Department of Defense employee on Tuesday lauded the “general cultural acceptance of sustainability” across governmental agencies, telling a luncheon crowd at an environmental conference that the current situation was an improvement over past attitudes.
Alex A. Beehler, assistant deputy undersecretary of defense, spoke of a once-stagnant atmosphere inside of the Department of Defense that had historically viewed environmental issues as a liability, mostly seeking minimum compliance instead of spearheading proactive measures that would hasten environmental improvement.
“Compliance for too long within the regulation community was viewed as a ceiling and not a floor,” Beehler said during Tuesday’s lunchtime address at the Multi-State Working Group’s annual workshop on environmental performance. “And not surprisingly, the way funding was held and distributed by those within the bureaucracy of the regulators, as well as the Department of Defense, sort of reinforced that whole mindset.”
Beehler likened the atmosphere within the Department of Defense as “one big family within the same gene pool with a lot of sibling rivalry,” commenting that the lack of cooperation and dialogue between agencies set up a gridlock that reinforced the status quo for years.
“You have entities within the Department of Defense which have existed for over 200 years, and they are quite often set in their ways about how things should be done, and don’t like to be told otherwise.”
Despite that lineage though, Beehler noted that regulations set forth in the 1970s, put in place to clean up past messes, have been met for the most part with a compliance rate hovering around 97 to 99 percent, leaving government and others within the regulatory community with the opportunity to start looking at the big picture.
Inter-agency bickering started to dissipate when the Department of Defense started viewing energy independence through the lens of national security after 9/11, Beehler said. The raised institutional awareness had a trickle-down effect to the state and municipal level.
Beehler brought up the example of North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, which resides within a fragile longleaf pine habitat system, itself part of the 30 million acres across the country that the military occupies.
Eventually, a meeting between the Department of Defense, the state of North Carolina, conservation groups and local counties saw money pulled from the military installation and put toward the purchase of conservation easements to be managed and owned by a third party.
Aside from increased cooperation and dialogue, the Department of Defense has also emphasized bio-based products, which took precedence this past September when the Pentagon held a forum to evaluate what businesses were doing within the product sector.
“National security concerns will help drive energy independence and mobility of energy sources because that’s what the military needs, and that’s what they learned from experiences with Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Beehler. “Knocking down the silos can go a long way to broadening people’s horizons on how to be more effective in the management of our scarce resources.”