Despite GOP repeal efforts, high-carbon fuel ban has minimal impact — DOD

Source: Elana Schor, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2014

Republicans have made an annual ritual of targeting a seven-year-old law that curbs military purchases of carbon-intensive fuels such as Canadian oil sands crude — but the provision’s practical impact on Pentagon practices appears scant at best.

Known as Section 526 for its place in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, the language at issue bars the Department of Defense from entering into contracts for fuel with a larger greenhouse gas footprint than conventional crude.

The law is often billed as a limit on Pentagon use of higher-polluting fuels, such as coal-to-liquids or oil sands crude, inspiring House repeal efforts that reached their latest climax last week.

The House attached a repeal of Section 526 to its annual defense appropriations bill late Thursday in a voice vote (E&E Daily, June 20).

However, a DOD spokesman affirmed yesterday that the military’s bulk petroleum program is unaffected by Section 526.

“As long as fuels are being purchased on the open market without regard to their feedstock,” Section 526 is no constraint on their carbon content, Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright said via email.

“We continue to have the flexibility to purchase the fuel that we need,” Wright added. “This flexibility is not limited to spot purchases.”

That reading of Section 526 might rattle environmental groups that have long lobbied against GOP bids to repeal it and defended the provision as a beneficial lifeline for the development of cleaner-burning biofuels. But what Wright described as the Pentagon’s purchase of “the vast majority of its fuel on the open market,” without the application of Section 526, also could slow some of the Republican rush to invalidate the law.

“Certain members over the years continually target this,” a Democratic congressional aide tracking Section 526 said in an interview, “but it’s a silly fight.” The source added, “It’s described as this ‘war on coal,’ but this was signed by President Bush in 2007. DOD can’t track the origin of molecules that it ultimately puts in its vehicles, and Section 526 doesn’t require the government to do so.”

While the law does not prevent oil sands crude purchases by DOD, the nation’s largest fuel buyer, the military could apply Section 526 to a coordinated acquisition of “an alternative or synthetic fuel” — that is, by shutting out any fuel derived from conventional crude. However, the Pentagon has yet to make any such purchases that would bring Section 526 into play, according to Wright.