Airlines for America, the American Farm Bureau Federation and other groups banded together last week to ask the Senate Armed Services Committee to quit blocking biofuels and alternative fuels for the Department of Defense.The unusual alliance teams traditional industry and agriculture associations with alternative energy leaders including the Advanced Biofuels Association and the Algal Biomass Organization.
U.S. military and alternative fuels
As covered numerous times in CleanTechnica (here, here and here), the Department of Defense is a key research partner and eager customer for the alternative energy sector, including solar, wind and geothermal as well as liquid fuels.
The military’s interest in fuel diversity and clean energy is straightforward. As a fact-based organization (facts being literally a life-and-death matter), DoD recognizes that fuel diversity will play a critical role in its future effectiveness, both in military and humanitarian operations. DoD also recognizes the importance of managing greenhouse gas emissions, as a means of tempering emerging threats and conflicts related to global warming.
Penny wise and fuel foolish
In blocking the DoD’s purchase of alternative fuels, both the House and Senate committees did not provide a long term strategic rationale for the decision. The new policy is simply based on current prices. If it stands, the new policy prevents DoD from purchasing any alternative fuels that cost more than fossil fuels.
In addition, the Senate also tacked on a provision blocking DoD from building biofuel refineries without specific authorization from Congress.
Oil, biofuels and budgets
In its letter last week to the Senate committee, the group (including the Biotechnology Industry Organization, Growth Energy, and the Pew Charitable Trusts along with the aforementioned ones) aimed squarely at the lack of foresight behind the new policy:
“Continued reliance on foreign oil puts U.S. national security at risk. Oil market volatility has already wreaked havoc on military budgets, which came at the cost of new equipment and training for our troops and reduced military readiness.”
In just the past couple of years, according to the letter, DoD had a $5.6 billion shortfall in military operations and maintenance due to unanticipated higher fuel costs.
Building an alternative fuel market
Thanks in part to purchasing and research support from DoD and other federal agencies, the cost of military grade biofuels in test quantities has plunged over the past two years, and the letter notes that commercial-scale production will lead to further declines.
In that context, the maneuvering in Congress seems more and more like a desperate, last ditch attempt to monkey wrench the inevitable transition to alternative fuels, rather than a responsible exercise of legislative authority.
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