Military programs win another victory in the Senate

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, November 30, 2012

The Senate voted yesterday to restore the military’s ability to participate in a multiple-agency program to build advanced biorefineries across the country.

In a 54-41 vote, the Senate approved the amendment from North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan (D) as part of its debate on the 2013 authorizing measure for the Department of Defense. It would allow the Navy to invest $170 million toward biorefineries in a joint agreement with the Agriculture and Energy departments.

Four Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Dick Lugar of Indiana — voted for the amendment, while Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia was the only Democrat to oppose it.

The Senate is expected to vote today on final passage of the bill.

The Navy-USDA-DOE program announced in August 2011 is meant to invest $510 million toward commercial-scale advanced biofuel refineries with each department contributing $170 million. It is part of a larger push by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to expand the use of alternative energy both onshore and in the water.

The original defense authorization bill reported out of the Senate Armed Services Committee prohibited the Navy from participating in the program. Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) wrote the provision and earlier this year said the Navy’s push to advanced biofuels could become a “Solyndra situation” (E&E Daily, March 16).

The White House today issued a veto threat on the legislation, citing in part the McCain provision. The Obama administration opposes measures limiting the use of alternative fuels, as well as several other provisions that the administration says would “constrain the ability of the Armed Forces to carry out their missions,” limit the executive branch and differ from President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget request.

Speaking on the floor earlier today in support of the McCain provision, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said there was “no reason” for the Defense Department to subsidize biorefineries. He warned that funding biorefineries would take away from the military’s readiness to respond to threats.

“I think it’s important for people to understand if you keep giving away $170 million here, $170 million there, that’s taking away from” the operating and management budget of the Defense Department, he said.

He also questioned why the Defense Department should be investing in biorefineries when USDA and DOE were already doing so

Before the vote, Hagan urged her colleagues to support the amendment, saying dependency on a single source of petroleum-based energy left the military at risk.

“It’s critically important that we approve this amendment,” Hagan said.

In a speech yesterday on the floor, she said $170 million represents just 0.03 percent of the Defense Department’s fiscal 2013 budget request and added that every $1 increase in the price of oil costs the Navy $30 million.

She responded to criticism over having the Defense Department jump into the biorefinery arena, saying each department has a role to play in promoting advanced biofuels.

“From my perspective, leveraging the unique capabilities of each agency, in partnership with the private sector, exemplifies the type of innovative approach needed to solve our country’s most vexing problems,” Hagan said.

The passage of the amendment is the second victory this week for military biofuels; yesterday, the Senate voted to accept an amendment by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) that would allow the military to purchase certain alternative fuels that are costlier than petroleum-based fuels (E&ENews PM, Nov. 28).

“Today’s vote was loud and clear,” said Michael McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuels Association. “The Senate once again backed our nation’s military, which considers advanced biofuels as an essential tool for our national security and energy independence.”