06/04/2012 Scuttling of the Great Green Fleet
Like the version of the bill that passed the Republican-controlled House, the Senate version censures military plans to invest heavily in costly biofuels to power ships and aircraft.
In recent months, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus have made no secret of their intentions to support the infant biofuels industry, using the alternative fuels at the rate of $26 a gallon to power a “Great Green Fleet” intended to launch for training this summer and deploy in 2016.
“We can break the market,” Mabus boasted at a gala sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund in May.
Human Events first reported the story in its May 14 analysis, “The Green Monster.”
While the Navy purchased 450,000 gallons of biofuels last December at about four times the cost of oil—the largest government purchase of its kind to date—the department may be barred from buying another gallon.
“I think most of the members of the Democrats looked at this and said, ‘this is not a winning issue,’” Sen. Jim. Inhofe (R-Okla.) told Human Events.
Alternative fuel limits
The Democratic-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee voted 13-12 in late May to include two amendments sponsored by Inhofe and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would prohibit the military from purchasing alternative fuel in the next fiscal year if it cost more than traditional fuel sources, except for use in specific research and development projects; and would bar the Defense Department from funding a biofuels refinery. Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) supported the first amendment; while Sens. Webb and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) supported the second.
Now, the House and Senate will face off over a provision that exempts the Defense Department from a 2007 statute stipulating that any alternative fuels purchased by the government must have lower carbon emissions than traditional fuel sources, a de facto prohibition on use of oil sands, oil shale, and other promising alternatives.
The language was approved in the House bill but failed in the Senate Armed Services Committee on a tie vote, 13-13. When the two bodies meet in conference to reconcile their versions of the bill following Senate passage of the legislation this summer, Inhofe is confident that the exemption will prevail.
“The Senate conferees are going to have an awful hard time saying they don’t want that provision, because it was split right down the middle,” he said. “Logically, (the decision) goes to the House.”
Less clear is how military leadership and the administration will respond to being stymied in Congress.
When asked about the move by Congress to prevent military expenditures on biofuels, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was reserved.
“Obviously, we asked for the freedom to do that,” he said. “It would have been good if we had the freedom to do that.”
Carter did not expound further on biofuels, but said that the military in some instances was justified in paying higher prices as a first adopter for technology that served as an aid to military readiness.
He did not comment on whether the House and Senate amendments would alter Navy plans to launch the Great Green Fleet.
Greater barrier to passage
Sam Ray, press secretary for Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), author of the House amendments limiting military purchase of biofuels and creating the exemption described above, said he expects the military to renew its pursuit of biofuels after provisions in the soon-to-be-enacted Defense authorization bill expire. However, Ray said, the composition of the House and Senate could become even more conservative, and thus a greater barrier to passage of such efforts, in the meantime.
Inhofe remains suspicious that leaders of the armed services will find ways to skirt the new restrictions and continue to pursue green energy extravagances.
“(Military leaders) have a commander-in-chief named Obama who’s going to do everything he can to get them to break the law,” he said. “He’ll put a lot of pressure on them to ignore the law and continue to get fuel that will allow them to continue with their experiment