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Opinion: Parochial Interests Threaten Biofuels

Opinion: Parochial Interests Threaten Biofuels

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A wave strikes the side of to the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187) as it conducts a replenishment at sea with the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) on July,7.[U.S. Navy Photo]

A wave strikes the side of to the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187) as it conducts a replenishment at sea with the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) on July,7.
[U.S. Navy Photo]

The U.S. Navy kicked of its annual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises last Friday and will use the world’s largest naval exhibition to test its concept for powering expeditionary operations on biofuels. A carrier strike group, dubbed the Great Green Fleet, is the culmination of several years of testing in the biofuels arena and will serve as the Navy’s first top-to-bottom test of a force that could go to war powered by alternative energies. But parochial interests in Congress threaten to undo the Navy’s progress on biofuels and undermine efforts to build a cost-competitive biofuels market.

When the House Armed Services Committee took up its annual debate over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2013, questions about the Navy’s biofuels program quickly came to the forefront. When the bill hit the House floor in May, two provisions had been added during markup of the bill by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX). Biofuels backers see the provisions as an attempt to undercut the Navy’s ambitious effort, which they contend hurts efforts to stabilize Defense Department fuel costs and offset DOD’s dependence on foreign fossil-based fuels.

The first provision, which is more symbolic than substantive, exempts DOD from the so-called Section 526 requirements contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The section requires government-purchased alternative fuels to have a lower greenhouse gas impact than current fossil fuels. DOD says it doesn’t need the waiver, but, within the biofuels industry, section 526 is seen as a levy holding back cheaper but more pollutant-intensive fuels like coal-to-liquid.

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