BREAKING NEWS: US Senate votes 62-37 to back military aviation biofuels

November 28, 2012 |

In Washington, the US Senate voted 62-37 in favor of an amendment offered by Senator Mark Udall of Colorado to repeal section 313 of the annual Defense appropriations bill.

Section 313 language, which was offered by Senator Inhofe and adopted in Committee, prohibits DOD from procuring alternative fuels if they cost more than their conventional counterparts.

The Committee-passed annual Defense Authorization bill would have blocked efforts to develop a commercial supply of cost-competitive advanced biofuels as detailed in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) led a successful effort to strike language in the bill that would have restricted DOD from buying any fuels that cost more than traditional fuels.  This language, which was added by Senator Inhofe during mark-up, was a direct assault on the Defense Department’s advanced biofuels policy.

“But Udall didn’t reverse John McCain’s committee amendment (Title XXVIII, Subtitle C, section 2823—Energy Security), that bans DoD from using funds for the public-private partnership without specific legislation authorizing the expense” , noted Jane’s Defense Weekly’s Eric Lindeman. “That’s going to have to come in another amendment or, more likely, in conference.”

In the weeks after Senator Inhofe’s successful inclusion of the troubling language, BIO, Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, the Advanced Biofuels Association, the Algae Biomass Organization, the Truman National Security Project, other advanced biofuels organizations, and the airlines worked closely with Senator Udall’s staff to support the senator’s efforts to strike the Inhofe language.

“Today’s vote was a good test vote for RFS,” commented BIO Executive Vice President Brent Erickson. “Over 60 senators went on record today supporting biofuels policy.  A very good bi-partisan outcome and a strong signal to investors.”

Hill observers noted the deep support for new technologies such as algae-based biofuels and for drop-in biofuels that do not require infrastructure change – in comparison to more tepid levels of support seen for corn ethanol this year in Washington.

The House of Representatives passed similar language to the Section 313 language that offered originally in the Armed Services Committee by Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma. Passage of the amendment means that the Senate and House will resolve the differences in the respective Defense appropriations bills through a House-Senate conference, where supporters of military aviation biofuels have vowed an all-out effort.

The complete roll call is here.

Among Democrats, only Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jim Webb of Virginia opposed the amendment, while 11 Republican Senators supported the bill, primarily from states with strong interests in agriculture, timber and advanced biofuels.

Senator Murray and Senator Udall’s offices had been urging senators to sign onto a letter, which has been signed by 38 US Senators, urging the removal of these committee amendments. This letter was brought up in Politico yesterday morning.

An amendment is expected to be offered to assure the DOD can continue its work on advanced biofuels. An advanced biofuels coalition letter was sent to House and Senate leadership in October asking them to support funding biofuels and the MOU.

In May, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert writing Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, stated: While the Navy does not intend to purchase alternative liquid fuels for operational use until they are price-competitive with petroleum-based fuels…I support the Secretary of the Navy’s efforts with the Departments of Energy and Agriculture to accelerate the establishment of a mastic alternative fuels industry through the Defense Production Act Title III. The provision in HR 4310m, section 314 would restrict the Navy’s ability to pursue access to alternative energy sources to power the Fleet. I believe this will impede America’s energy security.”

Next vote on advanced biofuels?

Notes on another upcoming vote on advanced biofuels. Sen. Kay Hagan’s (D-NC) amendment would strike Section 2823 (Sen. McCain) which would prohibit the Navy’s ability to provide funds for the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the departments of Agriculture and Energy in fiscal 2013 unless Congress specifically authorized it through an act of Congress.

Industry reaction

In a joint statement, the Advanced Biofuels Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Growth Energy, National Biodiesel Board and Truman Project said:

“Adopting advanced “drop-in” biofuels will help the Department of Defense (DoD) and the nation achieve broader national security objectives. Over-reliance on oil puts U.S. troops at risk of supply disruptions during military or humanitarian missions.

“Moreover, the oil market is unpredictable and the price per barrel of oil often fluctuates dramatically, which can have a significant impact on military budgets. In fiscal years 2011 and 2012, for instance, DoD came up $5.6 billion short in its budget for military operations and maintenance because it spent more on fuel than anticipated. For every $0.25 increase in the price of a gallon of oil, DoD incurs over $1 billion in additional fuel costs.

“It is increasingly important to find domestically produced crude oil alternatives to improve the country’s energy security, meet global energy demands, and provide jobs, while strengthening our military and domestic industry. The DoD’s partnership with private industry is a critical step towards achieving these goals. The amendment offered by the senators today will allow DoD to continue research and testing of fuels that provide U.S. forces with enhanced military capability.”

“It’s a really big win, a big day for biofuels,” added Mike McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuels Association. “It’s the first big vote after the election and helps the biofuels industry move forward in very positive way in the conference. Its heartening to see such a bipartisan, overwhelming vote on the floor of the US Senate.

Mike Breen, Executive Director of the Truman Project added:  “As a member of Operation Free, I was glad to see the Senate come together today to support DoD’s advanced biofuels programs.  Military leaders and security experts believe these initiatives are vital to our military’s energy security.

“Our dependence on oil as a single source of transportation fuel endangers our national and economic security. We spend billions of dollars every year securing strategic chokepoints in the global oil supply line, and any rise in oil prices leaves the DoD on the hook for millions or even billions in additional fuel costs.

“That’s why the military is leading the way to develop next generation renewable fuels to power its ships and aircraft.  Congress must continue to support these programs as the NDAA reaches conference.”

Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said: “Reports of the demise of biofuels political currency appear to be premature.  Americans clearly support reducing our dependence upon foreign oil and strengthening our national and economic security via domestic renewable fuels.”

“The strong bi-partisan support for the military’s ongoing investment in the US biofuels industry is a critical step,” said Imperium Renewables CEO John Plaza, “in the ongoing development of an industry that will supply our military with domestic, sustainable high-performance drop-in fuels that create jobs, reduce our dependency on foreign oil and give our soldiers more control over their energy supplies. I want to thank the leadership of Senator Udall for bringing the amendment to the floor, as well as Senators Murray and Cantwell for their support on today’s legislation as well as their tireless support of the US biofuels industry.”

“Today, the U.S. Senate preserved the Department of Defense’s ability to purchase, test and certify advanced biofuels for ships, airplanes and vehicles,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director, Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate. We applaud the 62 senators, including Mark Udall (D-CO) and co-sponsors, for supporting the military’s clean energy initiative. Advanced biofuels will help reduce the Pentagon’s dependence on foreign oil, protect the fuel budget against the volatile price of oil and strengthen our national security.”

“Biofuels allow American workers to make fuel for American troops,” Adam Monroe, President of Novozymes North America, said. “Senator Udall’s amendment will give the Department of Defense back the flexibility to make important strategic decisions when it comes to fueling our planes, ships and vehicles with domestic, advanced alternative energy.”



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