Op-Eds

Guthrie: Congressional Action Stops Executive Overreach, Secures Fort Knox's Energy Independence and Army Readiness

Washington, DC, June 9, 2016

Published: June 9, 2016

Kentucky’s Second District is home to Fort Knox, a major contributor to Kentucky’s economy and a central component of our nation’s defense. Its premier training facilities, global reach capabilities, and state-of-the-art energy security program make it a unique and critical installation for the Army and an important example for the whole Department of Defense to emulate. Fort Knox’s ability to generate unprecedented energy savings and efficiencies also saves a significant amount of taxpayers’ money.

One of the major drivers of energy savings has been the base’s ability to tap into its own natural gas reserves.  However, the Army’s contract with a local service provider to produce the gas is under threat of being terminated before its expiration date because the Department of the Interior has called into question the Army’s authority to extract the natural gas at Fort Knox and has threatened to bring the issue to the Department of Justice for a jurisdictional review. The arrangement that has existed since 2007 to extract natural gas from beneath Fort Knox for on-site use has proven to be a system that works well, with a number of benefits ranging from cost and efficiency savings to the installation being able to go completely off-the-grid. 

If the Justice Department was to determine that the contract was invalid because of the Mineral Leasing Act, serious consequences would follow including a potential hit of $18 million in cancellation costs for the Army and of course increased long-term energy costs at Fort Knox. This would be a detriment not only to taxpayers and the local economy but also could have unintended consequences for our nation’s defense.  An unfavorable decision would seriously dampen any interest in similar projects across the Defense Department, which could seriously limit opportunities for installations to invest in energy security and energy efficiency.  Not having to rely on external energy supplies substantially contributes to a base’s ability to support military readiness without interruption.

The problem facing Fort Knox led me to introduce legislation, H.R. 4984, a bill that would eliminate any ambiguity and clearly authorize the Secretary of the Army to produce, treat, manage, and use natural gas located under Fort Knox, Kentucky. Senator Rand Paul has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. H.R. 4984 provides a one-time exemption from the Mineral Leasing Act for Fort Knox, keeps intact the pre-existing production contract, and avoids cancellation fees and other increased costs. The current system works well and should not be dismantled just because one federal agency wants to expand its jurisdiction.

I offered the text of H.R. 4984 as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017.  The amendment received unanimous support from my colleageus and was included in the NDAA bill which the House passed on May 18. Fort Knox plays an important role in military readiness and the inclusion of this amendment in the House-passed NDAA is an important step toward ensuring our men and women in uniform have the best resources to efficiently and effectively carry out their missions at home and abroad. The arrangement is a great example of strategic-readiness planning that should be considered even beyond Fort Knox.

I am pleased that we are one step closer to ensuring Fort Knox’s leaders can continue to maintain the base’s energy independence and the post can benefit from the incomparable advantages that follow. However, the work to bring this bill to the President’s desk continues, so I will continue to advocate on behalf of Fort Knox and the important role it serves for Army readiness until that happens.