Comment: National security depends on White House continued support for biofuels

Source: By Mass. State Rep. Hank Naughton, The Hill • Posted: Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In a recent speech to the graduates of the United States Coast Guard Academy, President Barack Obama said: “Climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security…and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.  And so we need to act — and we need to act now.”

As someone who has dedicated his life over the last decade to the defense of the United States, I could not agree more. This is why the Obama administration’s recent actions impacting our national commitment to renewable biofuels are perplexing; particularly, today’s announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency that will give oil companies the ability to dramatically undermine our nation’s ability to reduce our addiction to petroleum.

This morning, the EPA released the proposed Renewable Fuel Standard, known as the RFS, which is a federal mandate designed to require oil companies to blend an ever increasing amount of renewable fuels into our nation’s fuel supply ever year until 2022.

What has me, and other proponents of biofuels concerned, is a new “methodology” for calculating the annual blending targets that is included in the proposed RFS.  This methodology is supported by the oil companies, and would allow the oil companies, and not the government, to determine how much biofuel is sold at gas stations around the country based on the oil industry’s willingness to distribute renewable fuel.  Oil companies are opposed to selling biofuels, because they don’t make biofuels, and therefore, every gallon of biofuel they blend into gasoline or diesel means they make less of a profit.

We know the oil companies support this methodology because they admitted as much in a recent letter to the EPA administrator from the American Petroleum Institute and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. Those organizations are trade associations that represent the interests of the oil companies in Washington.

To be clear, I am not asserting that the oil companies are in any way unpatriotic or lack a commitment to our country’s national security.  They are in the business of selling us energy, and without oil companies doing their jobs, our economy and our military would grind to a halt.

However, there can be no doubt that our national addiction to oil is a major contributor to the production of greenhouse gasses and climate change. This is why nearly every environmental group in the nation applauded the White House’s decision to not approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would have transported oil from the Canadian tar sands to refiners in the United States.

In his speech to the Coast Guard Academy graduates, the president attributed climate change to numerous national security challenges, including everything from the bloody civil war in Syria, which is further destabilizing the Middle East, to the rise of the terrorist group Boko Harem in Nigeria.  The production of renewable biofuels offer hope in combatting these challenges, because they reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by the vehicles we drive.

Take for instance biodiesel, a renewable fuel made from recycled products like used restaurant cooking grease, that is a replacement for diesel fuel made from oil. Biodiesel is a certified advanced biofuel by the EPA, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by over 80 percent when compared to regular diesel fuel. Advanced biofuels can also be made from garbage, wood chips, grasses and algae. Known as cellulosic ethanol, the United States could produce 75 billion gallons per year of these clean burning fuels by 2030, according to the Sandia National Laboratory.  This would meet about half of the entire nation’s total fuel consumption. Cellulosic ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 100 percent or more when compared to gasoline.

As the pace quickens with the development of biofuels, new fuels will be more abundant and cheap.  Over time, biofuels will continue to burn cleaner than ever before and help slow the pace of climate change.

It is my sincere hope that when the proposed RFS is finalized later this year, it will demonstrate our national commitment to biofuels and slowing the pace of climate change. It should not allow oil companies to thwart the intent of the RFS, by allowing them to determine how much biofuels to blend into our national fuel supply.  That would be a mistake, and a set back in our country’s security.

Naughton, a major in the Army Reserve and a member of the Department of State International Security Advisory Board, has served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives since 1995. He is currently chair of the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. The opinions expressed are his and do not represent official positions of the departments of Defense or State.