Earth Day: Taking action today, assuring the mission of tomorrow

  • Published
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

As a steward of almost 9 million acres encompassing forests, prairies, deserts, wetlands, and coastal habitats, the Department of the Air Force recognizes the importance of protecting and sustaining the natural environment. 

Taking steps to preserve biodiversity, mitigate damaging effects of climate change, and use land, energy, and resources responsibly all help ensure our installations can sustain critical missions.

“In celebration of the 52nd anniversary of Earth Day, we are proud to highlight how our installations are leading the way to save energy, preserve habitats, and promote sustainability through innovative infrastructure, clean energy generation, and conservation,” said Nancy Balkus, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety, and Infrastructure.

As the largest fuel consumer in the federal government, the DAF is expanding efforts to build climate resilience by prioritizing operational energy (aviation fuel) investments that increase force readiness, optimize fuel consumption, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The DAF also continues to find innovative ways to produce clean, onsite power to reduce emissions, while bolstering energy security and installation resilience to electrical outages from mission threats or extreme weather events.

For example, the DAF is piloting Department of Defense’s first micro-reactor at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, which will provide up to 5 megawatts of reliable clean energy to supplement current installation energy sources.

Additionally, Edwards AFB, California, will complete one of the country's largest solar photovoltaic array projects in 2022, adding 520 megawatts of renewable electricity to the grid and creating more than 1,000 jobs. This effort builds on initiatives from installations like Hill AFB, Utah, and Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, to augment base power supply with solar energy.

The DAF is also expanding its electrical vehicle fleet to reduce its carbon footprint and achieve carbon-neutral and net-zero emission goals by 2050. In 2020, the Department was recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy with a 2020 Federal Energy Management Program award for increasing Alternative Fuel Vehicle inventory by 42.7% when compared to fiscal year 2018. AFVs now represent more than 24% of the total DAF fleet.

DAF installations are expanding environmental conservation measures by implementing sustainable infrastructure and landscaping practices.

Dyess AFB, Texas, partnered with the city of Abilene, Texas, to repurpose oil pipelines to deliver approximately 160 million gallons of treated wastewater to the base each year for irrigation. This partnership has helped Abilene reduce water demand by 2%, while saving the Air Force more than $300,000 annually.

At Nellis AFB, Nevada, the DAF replaced water-thirsty grasses with efficient desert landscaping, reducing water consumption by 10%. The base is also using robots to clean their solar panels – which power 25% of the base – resulting in a 75% reduction in water use compared to manual cleaning methods. Other installations actively pursuing sustainable landscaping practices include, but are not limited to: Laughlin AFB, Texas, Beale AFB, California, March Air Reserve Base, California, and Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.

To the DAF, responsible stewardship means not only reducing its environmental footprint, but also protecting and repairing habitats that are already facing degradation. 

In 2021, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center secured more than $10 million to protect mission readiness and the environment at Tyndall AFB, Florida.

In October 2018, the installation suffered a direct hit from Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 hurricane, resulting in more than $3 billion in damage. The grant will help improve the resilience of the installation through enhanced shoreline habitats, which provide a natural buffer against storm surges.

The project will include up to 1,000 feet of living shorelines, 3,500 feet of submerged shoreline, and 1,500 feet of new oyster reef habitat.

Travis AFB, California, is also investing in natural solutions to preserve habitat, while saving money. The installation uses approximately 300 sheep and goats for targeted grazing to clear invasive species from steep hillsides and rocky terrain, which promotes the growth and diversity of native species including those that are threatened and endangered. The animals also reduce fire hazards and eliminate the need for debris disposal.

By making more environmentally-informed decisions – this Earth Day and everyday – the DAF is working to ensure that it can continue sustain all the planet has to offer for Airmen, Guardians, their families, and our nation for decades to come.