Democratic-controlled Senate committee nixes centerpiece of Obama renewable fuels policy

May 25, 2012 |

In Washington, the Democratic-controlled Senate Armed Services committee defeated an Obama Administration proposal to re-program $170M in US Navy funds to the Title III, Defense Production Act office so that the DPA’s Pentagon staff could ensure sufficient production of advanced biofuels to meet US military demand at affordable rates.

The proposal was removed from the Pentagon budget, on a narrow vote in Committee backed by Senate ranking Minority member, John McCain. With the Democrats holding a 14-12 edge in committee seats, counting the seat of Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman, at least two votes switched from the Democrats to vote with the Senate minority proposal. It is not yet known how the votes broke out.

With the vote, the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted language that would prohibit the use of DOD funds for the production or sole purchase of an alternative fuel if the cost exceeds the cost of traditional fossil fuels used for the same purpose, except for testing purposes, an prohibit the DOD from entering into contracts to design, plan or construct a biorefinery unless officially authorized by law.

The Senate vote comes less than one week after new tests, conducted at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, concluded that US warplanes are capable of flying faster and can carry more payload on missions, when flying with synthetic fuels, including biofuels, compared to conventional military jet fuels made from petroleum. The increased performance of biofuels could allow, for example, a fully loaded F/A-18 SuperHornet supersonic fighter to carry one additional missile during military operations.

The Obama Administration announced the $510 million investment last year, to commercialize advanced biofuels for military purposes, as the centerpiece of its renewable fuels policy. $170 million for the program’s funding was designed to come from each of the USDA, Department of Energy and the Department of the Navy. The USDA has already secured its share of funding, but the DOE and Navy were required to seek their shares in 2013 budget appropriations.

The defeat for the Navy in the Senate committee was unexpected.

The Advanced Biofuels Association, the Algal Biomass Organization, Airlines for America, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, Growth Energy, and the Pew Charitable Trusts released the following joint statement:

“U.S. advanced biofuel producers have made rapid progress toward cost-competitiveness. The per-gallon cost of test quantities of advanced biofuels under DoD contracts has declined more than 90 percent over the past two years and will continue to decline as these technologies scale to commercial production.”

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