Veterans group urges energy reforms

Posted March 30, 2010, at 9:42 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — The push for comprehensive energy policy reform that would reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil is hardly a new concept. Robin Eckstein said the problem is: people need to hear that message from more than just the environmentalist crowd.

Eckstein, an Army veteran of the Iraq War who now represents a group called Operation Free, admitted that the U.S. military historically is not known for what she called tree-hugging philosophies.

“But people might be willing to listen to veterans about this issue where they may not have been willing to listen when someone else made the same case,” she said Tuesday at the University of Maine in Orono. “This isn’t some left-wing radical idea.”

Eckstein and another recent veteran, Matt Victoriano, visited the UMaine campus as part of Operation Free’s National Veterans for American Power Tour. They and many others have been visiting states across the country in a biodiesel-powered bus since January to push for legislation that would change energy and climate change policies.

Victoriano, a U.S. Marine who served two tours in Iraq, said 60 percent of this country’s oil comes from overseas. In many cases, the money that pays for that oil ends up funding terrorists in Afghanistan and elsewhere, he said.

“We’re funding both sides of this war,” Victoriano said.

As groups such as Operation Free, a privately funded coalition of veterans and national security organizations committed to clean energy, push for policy shift, Eckstein said climate change is another big factor in national security. As flood, famine and drought destabilize countries including Afghanistan, Somalia or Nigeria, it creates conditions that create safe havens for terrorists, she said.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that climate change does, in fact, pose geopolitical and security threats by creating instability.

Andrew Kain with Repower Maine, the state branch of former Vice President Al Gore’s Repower America campaign, helped coordinate Tuesday’s event in Orono.

“Even if climate change isn’t happening, which I think it is, can’t we agree that there is no harm investing in clean energy? It’s just good economics.”

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill last year — the American Clean Energy and Security Act — that would direct domestic resources to energy alternatives. The U.S. Senate has yet to debate its version of the bill, but Eckstein said that’s why it’s so important to keep pushing the issue, and why it’s important for many voices to get involved.

“If that’s how we come together on this, what difference does it make who makes the case?” she said.

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