Navy Secretary Affirms Clean Energy Plans

In his first visit to Harvard since the University’s official recognition of the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in March, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus spoke about the Navy’s commitment to alternative energy at Harvard Business School on Monday evening.

At the event sponsored by the Harvard Business School Association of Boston, Mabus presented plans to decrease the Navy’s dependence on foreign oil, which he said has made its operations susceptible to fluctuations in global prices.

“When you run a military organization...you look for vulnerabilities,” Mabus said. “Our energy dependence jump[s] out as one of the biggest vulnerabilities we have today.”

Mabus, who has held office since 2009, has pledged for 50 percent of all Department of Navy energy to come from alternative sources by 2020. President Barack Obama praised these efforts in last Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

In particular, Mabus focused on the transition to biofuels in Navy and Marine Corps vessels and aircraft. When an audience member questioned the increase in operation costs that would result from using green energy, Mabus said that the price of biofuels has already dropped dramatically in recent years.

Beyond the environmental implications, Mabus said that Naval commitment to U.S.-grown biofuels could help spur American competitiveness in the burgeoning industry. He cited the Navy’s purchase of U.S. steel in the early 1900s as a crucial step towards creating a robust steel industry. The Navy can have a similar effect on green energy by increasing demand, he said.

Mabus also commented on the significance of Harvard’s decision to bring back Naval ROTC. The military withdrew from campus in 1969 amidst student and faculty protests against the Vietnam War. In the last few years, the University maintained chilly relations with the military, calling “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a violation of its non-discrimination policy. In December 2010, Congress repealed DADT, which banned gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.

Mabus praised the agreement he signed last March with University President Drew G. Faust that renewed the Navy’s relationship with Harvard.

“It’s very appropriate that Naval ROTC is back at Harvard,” Mabus said. “It’s an oversight that I’m glad has been corrected.”

Mabus also highlighted Harvard’s leadership on the issue, mentioning similar steps to bring back ROTC at Yale and Columbia in the days after his meeting with Faust.

At the beginning of the event, Mabus recognized audience member Admiral Thomas J. Hudner, Jr., a retired U.S. Navy aviator and Medal of Honor recipient for his service during the Korean War.

“I thought it was a great presentation,” Hudner said. “Even for a sophisticated group like this, it was very edifying.”

—Staff writer Brian C. Zhang can be reached at brianzhang@college.harvard.edu.

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