Montana legislators last week heard from an unlikely duo about how the United States must pursue renewable power and move away from fossil fuels: A retired U.S. Navy vice-admiral and a Marine Corps colonel.

Dennis McGinn, a retired vice admiral who now works for CNA, a Virginia-based think tank, said the United States won’t abandon traditional fuels like oil or coal any time soon.

But relying primarily on these fuels puts the country at risk militarily and economically, and the government should aggressively pursue development of alternative, renewable fuels, he said.

“We need to, in an environmentally sensible way, continue to access those extractive resources in Montana, for Montana and the U.S.,” he said in an interview. “But to think that that is the only approach that we should take, that is going to sustain us into the foreseeable future, is very, very short-sighted.”

McGinn and Col. Bob Charette of the U.S. Marine Corps came to Helena last week at the invitation of Rep. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, and Sen. Ryan Zinke, R-Whitefish.

They met with legislative leaders, Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the media, and made a presentation to about 150 people at the Capitol Wednesday evening, including many legislators.

McGinn said Montana should continue with its incentives to encourage renewable-power development.

Charette, director of the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Energy Office, said the military’s reliance on fossil fuel often makes it more vulnerable to enemies.

Marines in Afghanistan must move fuel convoys through Pakistan, for many weeks, he said. For every 50 fuel and water convoys, one Marine is killed or wounded, he said.

To reduce the threat, the Marine Corps has been developing patrols that use renewable energy, such as small, flexible solar systems to power equipment that had been powered by generators, Charette said.

McGinn said he has studied the science on climate change, and is convinced the science is valid.

He said while the issue has become highly politicized, he noted that 95 percent of climate-change scientists believe change is occurring and is caused by man-made greenhouse gases.

“If I’m a Marine captain in Afghanistan and I’ve got 95 percent of the intel reports telling me there’s a likelihood of a Taliban ambush over the pass that I’m going to escort a fuel convoy on, and I’ve got 5 percent of those reports that are table-pounding intel saying ‘No problem,’ who do you think I’m going to listen to?” he said.

“Even if the guy who says ‘No problem’ is right, the fact that 95 percent of the overwhelming evidence says there is a problem, prudence would dictate that you’d better be careful.”

McGinn said America needs a diverse portfolio of energy, to reduce the security threat created by reliance on foreign oil and reduce the need to place American forces overseas to protect fossil fuel sources.

“Every year that goes by, the options are less and the cost is more,” he said. “Montana is in a great spot to be really, really pro-active in formulating the kind of policies that will create a great energy future.

“It has to be a (diverse) portfolio of energy. It can’t be just clinging to the old fossil fuels.”

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