Proponents of military program tout economic benefits as key vote looms

Source: Annie Snider, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012

Supporters of the military’s plans to transition its fleets to biofuels are touting a new report outlining the economic benefits of the effort as a key Senate vote on the program nears.

A study released today by the trade group Environmental Entrepreneurs predicts that the Defense Department’s goals, which include a Navy plan to get half of the service’s energy from alternative sources by the end of the decade, could generate between $9.6 billion and $19.8 billion in that period. It also predicts a total of 14,000 to 17,000 new jobs could be created by 2020.

“The report underscores the significance of DOD’s market signal to the biofuels industry in helping it to reach scale and achieve broad commercialization,” said Nicole Lederer, co-founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs, during a call with reporters this morning. “Collectively, [the military’s] initiatives have become the single most important market signal to the clean energy industry, and they constitute the most comprehensive federal energy policy we have today to advance clean energy technologies in this country.”

The report comes as the military biofuels program faces a legislative assault on Capitol Hill. The House passed its defense authorization bill in May with a provision to prevent the military from buying operational quantities of any fuel that costs more than traditional petroleum.

The Senate bill contains a similar provision, along with an amendment to block the Navy’s portion of a $510 million interagency plan to invest in commercial-scale biofuel refineries.

While the Senate legislation has been stalled for months, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has indicated he hopes to take up the measure after Thanksgiving. Congress has passed a defense bill every year for the last 50 years, and leaders are keen not to let 2012 break the streak, despite a packed legislative agenda and a dwindling number of workdays.

The military biofuels effort saw a slew of lobbying from both sides over the summer following the two legislative votes and the Navy’s high-profile demonstration of its “Great Green Fleet” during exercises in Hawaii. After a lull during election season, today’s report signals the resumption of the battle.