House committee passes anti-biofuel amendments in markup session

By Erin Voegele | May 09, 2014

On May 7, the House Armed Service Committee held a markup session on H.R. 4435, the fiscal year 2015 national defense authorization bill. During that markup session, committee members voted in favor of three amendments that would negatively impact the military’s ability to use biofuels.

All three amendments were offered by Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas. One aims to prevent the U.S. Department of Defense, the Navy in particular, from building a biofuel refinery without going through the full appropriations process. Another amendment offered by Conaway would prevent the DOD from purchasing biofuels that are more expensive than petroleum products, while a separate amendment aims to strike Section 256 from the 2007 Energy Bill for the military. That section of U.S. law prevents executive branch government agencies from buying synthetic fuels unless they can prove the fuel’s greenhouse gas emissions are less than or equal to the emissions of petroleum products. While Section 256 may not apply directly to biofuels, it may benefit the renewable fuels industry by preventing government entities from using high-carbon synthetic fuels, such as coal-based liquid fuels, as gasoline and replacements.

Several members of Congress argued against the amendments. Ranking Member Adam Smith, D-Wash., said that actions to restrict the Navy’s ability to develop biofuels undermines our ability to develop needed energy sources. Responding to a comment that biofuels development is outside the core competency of the military, Smith argued that energy has been a critical part of national security since the beginning of time.

“What the Navy has tried to do is say we do not want to be utterly and completely dependent upon fossil fuels,” Smith said. “We want to develop alternatives.”

Regarding the argument that biofuels are too expensive, Smith stressed that anything you develop anything new—including fuels—it is costly. The costs of biofuels, however, are coming down, he said. Smith also pointed out that the U.S. government has subsidized fossil fuels for decades. He also noted the importance of looking at the cost in terms of a long-term investment. “In the long run, you are in a deep hole if you don’t have the alternative [fuels] as oil prices go up and other problems are created,” he said.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., spoke about her time in the military, stressing how many times her fellow soldiers risk life and limb due to U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. A DOD report, she said, determined that 80 percent of military convoys are conducted for the transport of fuel, and more troops are injured and killed during convoys that any other operations. “By investing in biofuels, our military will risk fewer of our troop’s lives, increase our strategic independence and improve our warfighting capabilities,” she said.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., noted how the amendment against refinery development could negatively impact the military’s ability to enter public-private partnerships for renewable energy development.

Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., also argued against the amendments, noting that development of alternative fuels is in the nation’s best interest. He stressed that the development of biofuels will mean long-term savings for the military.