Senate, House Move to Limit Defense Department’s Alternative Fuel Usage As Republicans Criticize Green Military Efforts


Legislation in both chambers of Congress would limit the Department of Defense’s ability to buy alternative fuels, reflecting congressional Republicans' criticism of Pentagon efforts to green the military.

A $554 billion defense spending bill approved by the House earlier this month would limit DOD's ability to produce or procure biofuels if the cost exceeds the price of traditional fossil fuel.

Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), who inserted the provision into the legislation as an amendment at the committee level, said,“This is just an extra cost the department does not need to incur at a point in time when we are contemplating cutting 80,000 soldiers out of the Army, 20,000 Marines out of the Marine Corps, ships not getting built, planes not getting bought.”

The Defense Department, which spent $19.4 billion on energy in fiscal 2011 and is the nation’s largest energy consumer, has said new energy research is needed for the sake of national security and to hedge against oil price volatility. According to the Pentagon, every $1 rise in the price of a barrel of oil costs the department $130 million more in fuel costs.

The Pentagon has set a goal of using 3 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025 and has requested billions of dollars for energy efficiency measures ranging from energy-efficient aircraft engines to ships with hybrid electric drives in its fiscal 2013 budget request.

A National Security ‘Threat.’

“In the 21st Century, the reality is that there are environmental threats which constitute threats to our national security,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said earlier this month, according to a transcript of his remarks.

“For example, the area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security: rising sea levels, to severe droughts, to the melting of the polar caps, to more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Panetta said.

The Conaway amendment included in the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4310) was meant to limit the Defense Department’s participation in an interagency agreement with the departments of Energy and Agriculture to spend $510 million to construct biorefineries capable of producing “drop-in” biofuels for the use by the Navy in its ships and jets, according to a summary.

The effort has drawn the interest of commercial aviation giants such as Boeing Co. and United Continental Holdings, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said earlier this year.

Interest From Commercial Airlines.

“They are very, very interested,” Vilsack said during remarks at forum held by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “They too are interested in having 50 percent of their fuel supply, over time, being met by biofuels.”

In the Senate, similar restrictions on the Defense Department’s use of biofuels were added to the Senate’s version of the legislation during a closed door meeting May 24, including a measure that prohibits the department from “entering into a contract to plan, design, or construct a biofuels refinery or any other facility or infrastructure used to refine biofuels.”

“It's a job for the Department of Energy, not the Department of Navy,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview. “You shouldn't be paying $244 per gallon when we are having to retire ships early.”