File this one under T, for ‘There they go again.’ Certain Republican members of the US Congress are once again working to bring a halt to the Navy’s ambitious biofuel initiatives, even though the Navy insists that it is quite happy with its biofuel initiatives, having determined there are strong national security and sustainability reasons for cultivating fuel diversity in general and various biofuels in particular.
Say, what’s this got to do with tar sands oil anyways?
Navy Biofuel, Tar Sands Oil, and Section 526
The platform for the Navy’s biofuel initiatives is Section 526 of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.
Section 526 supports biofuel development by prohibiting federal agencies from buying synthetic fuel with a larger pollution profile than conventional petroleum.
That effectively opens the door wide for biofuel, and slams it shut on tar sands oil. As early as 2008, tar sands oil fans in the US Congress began trying to repeal section 526.
In 2009 US Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) re-introduced legislation to repeal section 526, leading off his press release on that topic with this comment:
“Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 serves to prevent the Department of Defense from purchasing fuel from the Canadian Tar Sands where there is an estimated 180 billion barrels of oil,” Senator Inhofe said.
Another biofuel repeal attempt occurred in 2012, along with an attempt to undercut a 2011 Memorandum of Understanding that has joined the Navy with the Departments of Agriculture and Energy in a biofuel initiative that also serves as a rural economic development program.
Yet another biofuel repeal attempt occurred in 2013, courtesy of Representative Mike Conaway (R-Texas)
The Republicans finally appear to have given up on the repeal thing, though they are still seeking to undermine Section 256.
Earlier this month our friends over at Biomass Magazine have caught wind of the latest attempt to thwart biofuel development.
This one involves slipping a provision to defund enforcement of Section 526 into the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2017 (HR 5293).
The White House, naturally, has objected. Here’s the passage relevant to biofuel in a long policy statement issued on June 14 by the Office of Management and Budget that “strongly” opposes passage of HR 5293:
…The Administration strongly objects to section 8132 of the bill, which would prohibit DOD from using FY 20 17 funds to enforce section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Section 526 provides an environmentally sound framework for the development of future alternative fuels.
Quick, Lock The Barn Door…
On the plus side, it’s not clear that defunding the enforcement of 526 will have any significant effect on the Defense Department’s plans for alternative fuels.
The Republicans deployed a similar enforcement defunding strategy a few years ago, to fight the phase-in of new federal efficiency standards for light bulb manufacturers. The lighting industry had already moved ahead with better bulbs and the tactic failed.
…The Horses Have Escaped
Perhaps it was only a coincidence, but while House Republicans were trying to pull the rug out from under Section 526, last week the Navy gleefully showcased the use of inedible vegetable oil and beef fat to power a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Mason (DDG 87), with a photo op and press release.
The occasion was a refueling operation at sea, and it was the first time the Navy had refueled a ship under way from alternative sources.
To give you an idea how important the photo op was, take a look at the photo of the refueling operation, at the top of this article. One the left is Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, one of the nation’s most forceful advocates for alternative fuels and climate action.
The head of the Italian navy, Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi, is on his right, because biofuel is an important industry in Italy and the biofuel is being transferred from the Italian oiler ITS Etna (A5326). In 2014 Italy became the first EU nation to mandate the use of advanced biofuels.
Mabus issued this statement to mark the event:
There’s really one goal — sustainability. There are also strategic goals to it. The main reason for doing this is to make us better warfighters and to make us a better Navy. It’s to keep the vulnerability away because fuel can be used as a weapon. It’s about having options before you get your fuel and what type of fuel you get. It gives us flexibility and it makes us better at what we do.
Mabus also noted that the Navy is growing its fleet “dramatically” and expects to have 308 ships at sea within the next few years, by 2021.
That means we’re going to need a lot more tar sands oil or a lot more biofuel, and it looks like the Navy has already made its pick.
Photo credit: US Navy, by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Janweb B. Lagazo, USS Mason (DDG 87) Public Affairs.
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