Biofuels battles reignite as House bill clears committee

Source: Annie Snider, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, June 7, 2013

Supporters of the military’s efforts to turn to alternative fuels may have won last year’s high-profile battles, but opponents aren’t giving up.

During yesterday’s more than 14-hour-long House Armed Services Committee markup of its fiscal 2014 defense policy bill, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) successfully attached three amendments related to the military’s alternative fuel efforts. The committee approved all three by a voice vote and the full bill on a 59-2 vote.

Conaway, who fired the opening salvo in last year’s battle to block the military’s purchase of biofuels unless they reach cost parity with conventional fuels, filed a similar amendment again yesterday. It would prevent the military from purchasing alternative fuels for anything other than research until they reach the same price as conventional fuels or until the Budget Control Act and sequestration are repealed.

“I am … pleased that the committee adopted several amendments I introduced that would remove energy restrictions on the Defense Department, give the department flexibility in choosing energy sources, and eliminate wasteful green energy subsidies,” Conaway said in a statement early this morning.

A second amendment from Conaway would block the DOD’s portion of a $510 million interagency effort to spur commercial-scale production of cost-competitive drop-in biofuels.

Proponents of the program say that, if successful, it would offer the military — the government’s largest purchaser of fuel — a strategic benefit, but opponents say that such energy programs are a poor use of defense dollars at a time when the department has a mandate to make significant budget cuts. A compromise hammered out in conference over last year’s defense policy bill prevents DOD from putting any more money into the program until the other agencies pony up their share, although Congress has blocked the Energy Department’s requests to transfer money to do so.

But since then, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has himself considered putting the program on hold during sequestration. Sources involved with the internal debate last month said Hagel was concerned with the appearance of signing multimillion-dollar contracts with biofuels companies at the same time the department is putting civilian employees on furlough and delaying deployments (Greenwire, May 22).

The White House remained staunchly supportive of the program, though, and the Pentagon quietly announced the first round of awards: $16 million for three companies to develop plans for biofuel refineries (Greenwire, May 28).

A third amendment successfully attached yesterday to the defense policy bill by Conaway would repeal a 2007 ban on the government purchase of fuels with a higher life-cycle greenhouse gas footprint. Republicans have been trying to overturn the ban since it went into effect, regularly attaching amendments to appropriations bills that would do so. None so far has made it into final legislation.

Clean energy proponents were quick this morning to denounce the provisions.

“Our military leaders have been clear: developing next generation fuels and using energy smarter are national security imperatives,” Michael Breen, co-founder of the Truman Project’s Operation Free green energy campaign, said in a statement. “Congress should listen to our military leaders who have stated that these investments are crucial for strengthening our national and economic security.”