Senate armed services committee approves anti-biofuel amendments

By Erin Voegele | May 25, 2012

On May 24 the Senate Committee on Armed Services completed the markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013. The bill authorizes funding for the Department of Defense and the national security programs of the U.S. DOE. The U.S. House of Representatives’ version of the bill, which was approved by House members in mid-May, included provisions that undermine military effort to reduce dependence on foreign oil. There was speculation that similar amendments could be added to the U.S. Senate version of the bill as it underwent markup by the Committee of Armed Services.  (Please see “Defense authorization bill could cut military biofuels initiatives” for additional information.)

Information released by the Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., following the markup session reveals that two such changes have been included in the version of the bill that will go to the Senate floor for vote. According to the release, the bill includes provisions to prohibit fiscal year 2013 funding on the production or purchase of an alternative fuel if the cost of producing or purchasing the alternative fuels exceeds the cost of traditional fossil fuel. There is an exception that allows the DOD to complete engine or fleet certification for 50/50 fuel blends using Research Development Test & Evaluation funds. A second provision prohibits the DOD from entering into a contract plan to design or construct a biofuels refinery or any other facility or infrastructure used to refine biofuels, unless specifically authorized by law. It is possible that additional amendments could be offered when the bill is debated on the Senate floor, which could be several months away. For example, it is still possible that an amendment to repeal Section 526 of the 2007 energy bill could be introduced. Section 526 ensures that if the DOD buys alternative fuels, then those fuels cannot emit more carbon than conventional petroleum.

“It is a disappointment that a slim majority of the Senate Armed Services Committee has chosen to restrict efforts by the Department of Defense to reduce dependence on foreign oil,” said Phyllis Cuttino, Pew Charitable Trusts director of Clean Energy. “Today’s vote will hurt the DOD’s efforts to protect its budget from oil price shocks, diversify its energy mix and ensure security of supply. This is a step backwards."

Pew has joined the Biotechnology Industry Organization, Airlines for America, the Advanced Biofuels Association, the Algal Biomass Organization, Growth Energy and the American Farm Bureau Federation in a joint statement against the anti-biofuel amendments implemented by the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

 “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 fiscal years 2011 and 2012, DOD came up $5.6 billion short in its budget for military operations and maintenance because it spent more on fuel than anticipated,” said the groups in the joint statement. “Moreover, the United States sends $1 billion overseas each and every day to pay for foreign oil, further draining resources from the U.S. economy. U.S. advanced biofuel producers have made rapid progress toward cost-competitiveness. The per-gallon cost of test quantities of advanced biofuels under DOD contracts has declined more than 90 percent over the past two years and will continue to decline as these technologies scale to commercial production. DOD’s efforts to reduce use of foreign oil and increase use of American biofuels can lead the nation’s effort to achieve energy security. We will work with members of the Senate to restore support within the NDAA for the DOD’s commitment to accelerate production of American-made, advanced, drop-in biofuels for use in military jets, ships, and vehicles.”

Novozymes has also spoken out against the amendments. “If you look at the support for energy programs in the farm bill, we know the Senate understands the huge impact renewable fuels are having. Fueled by private investment, they are adding to America’s mix of domestic energy, reducing prices for consumers and freeing us of foreign influence. Today’s vote, however, was a lost opportunity,” said Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America. “Biofuels are reducing costs for U.S. consumers more than a dollar a gallon—and we should let that innovation do the same for our military. We look forward to working with our allies in the Senate and helping the military achieve its cost-reduction and transportation goals.”

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