June 8th, 2012
02:19 PM ET

Military's plan for a "green" future has Congress seeing red

By Jennifer Rizzo

The Defense Department has a grand vision for the U.S. military's energy future, including "green"-powered fleets, jets and trucks. But members of Congress are hung up on the dollar signs that come with going green.

Language in the House and Senate versions of the defense budget largely bans the use of alternative energy like biofuels, prohibiting the military from purchasing any alternative fuel that costs more than traditional fossil fuels like oil. The catch: Biofuels are always more expensive than oil, about four times more.

"To have the military, whose sole job is to defend this country, spending extra money simply on flying their airplanes with fuel that's available at a cheaper price, again on these restraints and the resource restraints that we find ourselves in, makes no sense to me," said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who introduced the amendment.

The Defense Department says it needs to invest in diversifying the sources of energy that fuel almost every piece of military equipment. The biofuels are considered a "drop-in fuel," meaning no changes to equipment engines are necessary.

"As a major consumer, probably the world's single largest consumer, of liquid fuels, we have an interest in making sure we have fuels for the future as well," said Sharon E. Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs. "So we're opposed to any efforts that restrict our options in this area."

It's been an Obama administration priority to decrease the U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The Defense Department sees energy independence as a national security objective. Since August 2009, the Defense Department has spent $42 million to purchase 1.1 million gallons of biofuels for testing purposes.

"Many of those sources of which we are absolutely dependent are in volatile or potentially volatile places on Earth, and some of those oil suppliers probably don't have our best interests at heart," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said at a Senate hearing. "We would never depend on those oil suppliers to build our ships, our aircraft, our ground equipment, but we give them a say in whether the ships sail, the aircraft fly or the ground vehicles operate, because we depend on them for fuel."

Last year, the Navy spent $12 million for 450,000 gallons of biofuel, the largest purchase of biofuel ever in the U.S. The service, which has been a leading force behind the military's green initiatives, plans on using that fuel to power a carrier strike group during a two-day demonstration this summer. A green fleet will be ready for deployment in 2016. What the congressional restriction would do to those plans is unclear.

Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan said the Navy will move forward as planned but warned that if the provisions are enacted, "they could affect some of the Navy's biofuels goals and restrict DoD's ability to increase our resilience against potential supply disruptions and future price volatility of petroleum products."

"The Great Green Fleet doesn't have an environmental agenda," Mabus said. "It's about maintaining America's military and economic leadership across the globe in the 21st century."

Every time the price of a barrel of oil goes up by one dollar, it costs the military $130 million, according to the Pentagon.

"When anyone says we can't afford to invest in developing alternative sources of energy, my reply is, we can't afford not to," he said. "We can't afford to wait until price shocks or supply shocks leave us no alternative."

Mabus is not blind to the large price tag of $26 a gallon that comes with the green fuel but says simple economics can solve the issue.

"Alternative fuels can't become competitive with oil unless there's demand for them," he said. "But demand at commercial scale will never be possible unless there's a supply to meet that demand."

The Defense Department's purchase of small amounts of biofuel for research and development has dramatically reduced the price of biofuels, cutting the cost in half in two years, according to Mabus. And the Navy is investing $170 million in the production of advanced "drop-in" aviation and marine biofuels to kick-start the U.S. alternative energy sector.

"It's really about investment today for pay off tomorrow," said clean energy advocate Phyllis Cuttino of Pew Charitable Trusts. "How much did the first pair of night vision goggles cost us? A lot more probably than they cost now."

But Conaway says it's not the military's job to get an industry off the ground.

"Is it the federal government's responsibility to start that industry? And I would argue that no, it is the private sector's out there, that's great at doing these kinds of things," Conaway said. "It's got to be, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines gotta be buying that fuel. And when that happens? Great. The Department of the Navy can buy it as well."

With the amendment passing in both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, Conaway expects the restriction to be a part of the final defense budget.

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Filed under: Defense Spending • Military • Navy • Security Brief
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Mae

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    May 23, 2013 at 8:50 am | Reply
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    October 8, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  3. Sara

    I completely agree that we need to stop our dependence on foreign oils; HOWEVER, the United States needs to start using her own resources that God gave her. Look to Alaska, or the Midwest, or off the coast of Florida, we have some of the largest oil reserves in the world, but are we using them? No we arent. Why have we made ourselves dependent on the Middle East when we have no reason to be? Now there's all this talk about using biofuels instead...why??? Biofuels still need to be subsidized from the government. Biofuels are causing food prices to steadily rise. I know biofuels sound like an amazing idea, but as long as the American taxpayer is footing the bill so that Obama can keep subsidizing it biofuels it will be detrimental to the American society.

    July 2, 2012 at 10:21 am | Reply
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      October 12, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Reply
  4. BAB

    30 days and then what...

    they don't know what they don't know

    they should try staring at the sun for a day and ask themselves if oil in the eye would be any worse

    and what if...

    June 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  5. Obelisk ©™

    The denuclearization of South Asia (Subcontinent) particularly India is imperative.
    Quid pro quo transfer of nuclear technology by USA to third world countries such as India needs to be opposed on moral grounds. Billions of people live in that neighborhood and would be at risk from such catastrophes which I am sure the American people would not like to be a party to. We are all well aware that that region is prone to floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and of course terrorism placing such nuclear installations at tremendous risks. US Congress is urged to reconsider and cancel all the agreements for the transfer of such technologies due “Force Majeure”.

    June 10, 2012 at 11:17 am | Reply
    • Josh

      Should be done sooner than later.

      June 10, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Reply
  6. Jen B

    Which biofuels is this article talking about (4x more expensive than traditional)? The ethanol fuels at my local gas station are always cheaper than even the regular unleaded gas–makes me wish I could afford to buy a new alternative fuel car.

    June 10, 2012 at 10:48 am | Reply
    • Cheese Wonton

      The claimed expense of these experimental biofuels is deliberately exaggerated. The costs per gallon quoted include the entire research and development process including tests of these fuels in existing military equipment, such as the US Navy's "Green Hornet", and F/A-18 Hornet that has been used to test biofuels in an operational environment.
      These fuels would be far less costly in a production environment, which is why the Navy is so anxious to promote their advancement from an expensive laboratory experiment to routine, low cost production.

      June 11, 2012 at 10:39 am | Reply
  7. mickey1313

    Not surprising, the government is in collusion with big oil, and the house of saud. The nwo doesn't want the military to develop tech that will weaken there hold on the global power

    June 10, 2012 at 2:17 am | Reply
  8. joep199

    In a conflict situation, our armed forces are totally dependent on the availability of fuel. They need to be able to take advantage of whatever source is most readily available whenever and wherever they need it. Factor in the cost of delivering fuel to the battlefield, the absolute need to avoid delays (look at what's happening in Pakistan where that government is holding up our transport convoys), and the very real possibility that oil from foreign sources might very well be cut off, and it makes absolute sense that our military should be investing in developing alternatives. For the GOP to turn this into a political issue, either to appease their campaign contributors or, even worse, out of a desire to oppose anything that the President favors, borders on criminality, at least, and treason, at worst.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Reply
    • NN

      Care to explain how biofuel would be any easier to transport into Afghanistan than fossil fuel? The US has enough domestic production from the Gulf of Mexico alone to more than fuel any likely war and in larger cheaper amounts. Biofuel doesn't compete.

      June 9, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Reply
      • Cheese Wonton

        This disruption of the NATO supply chain to Afghanistan through Pakistan ought to be a lesson to war planners. In a future conflict, perhaps a naval conflict in the South China Sea, US access to oil might be partially denied. Were that to happen, and such a scenario is far from fantasy, it would be too late to embark on a program to develop a biofuels infrastructure. Such an infrastructure has to be in place before any such conflict, freeing the US to a degree from dependence on resources transported to the US from abroad that could be denied by an enemy.

        June 11, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  9. NN

    The Navy is a thoroughly corrupt department and their smooth phony justification for the program is a rationalization to enrich their cronies. There is not enough natural resource to produce biofuel in any significant amount. It's kind of sad that despite their tremendous failure to run their department with any kind of efficiency that they should presume to develop a commercial industry.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Reply
    • Portland tony

      Well the Navy was so short sighted to develop a nuclear powered surface and submarine fleet when idiots like you said it was a waste of money. Well think a few yards in the future. If anything would disrupt petroleum supplies, the military is going to operate their aircraft no matter what the cost. Even commercial airlines are experimenting with biofuels. From your comments you haven't a clue about what's going on with synthetic 'petro-products

      June 9, 2012 at 9:50 am | Reply
      • NN

        The Department of Energy already has a long standing program of biofuels research and development in place :
        http://www1.eere.energy.gov/biomass/index.html , and they are far more experienced and qualified to conduct this business than DoD. The DoD funding is redundant and misplaced.

        June 10, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  10. some guy

    Go Navy !

    June 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  11. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    Here is the GOP "Green" solution: Turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Unemployed and Gay people into slaves. The whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Employed, and Straight. Or until they are dead. Then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military.

    June 8, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Reply
    • tj

      Wow. Somebody finally figured out thier plan. Idiot. Are you by chance a broke old gay sickly mexican atheist with no job.

      June 8, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Reply
    • Guest

      Are you off your medication?

      June 8, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Reply
    • Trevor

      No, he's a troll that is seen now and then that doesn't know how to stay on topic, but randomly inserts anti-GOP rants that make it appear that he's on medication while typing, but probably doesn't have a job to afford any medication.

      June 9, 2012 at 2:34 am | Reply
    • Amuura

      Joe, I suggest you check this part of the story out beofre commenting on the pitfalls of previous biofuels projects (although I agree that many have been bogus ideas): The algae will be grown at a facility adjacent to the stacks, harvested, dried using industrial waste heat, from the cement plant and then used along with the fossil fuels that are currently used in its cement kilns The algae processing is using waste heat, which would be lost energy regardless. Also, no need for trucks/shipping as the fuel is then being consumed on site. Essentially this delays the use of fossil fuels, decreasing the rate of carbon dioxide emmisions. For every BTU of fuel generated from recaptured C02 there is one less BTU of fuel mined, so the overall carbon footprint goes down.

      June 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply

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