Intelligent Energy

U.S. House: Biofuels? Let the military pollute

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The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill containing an amendment that would encourage the military to use high carbon fuels such as liquid coal.

The U.S. House of Representatives could thwart the military’s steady march toward meeting its renewable energy objectives if an amendment in a defense spending bill that lawmakers passed today becomes law.

House Republicans added an amendment to the House Armed Services Committee authorization bill that could overturn a provision in a 2007 law prohibiting the military from using high-carbon fuels such as liquid coal and oil sands.

Republicans have argued that the provision poses an unnecessary strategic risk to military operations by exposing it to supply volatility on the international oil market and that biofuels are wasteful spending.

The current law, written by Democrats, has left the military focusing on biofuels derived from sources such as algae and solar power.

The military must purchase its solar equipment from domestic sources. Efforts to change the law are concerning to progressive think thanks and environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been monitoring the bill’s passage on its blog.

“Congress should speed the development and deployment of significantly cleaner domestic biofuels instead of spending tax dollars on dirtier fuels that accelerate global warming, which will foster unrest in nations impacted by global warming,” Daniel Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, wrote in reaction to today’s vote.

However, liquid coal has staunch supporters on both sides of the isle. Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Tim Holden has fought to restore funding to a Department of Energy project that would convert waste coal to usable diesel fuel. Holden called for an investigation when funding was re-appropriated by the Bush administration.

Many House Democrats also voted for today’s bill: it passed by a vote of 322 to 96. Senate Democrats voted to extend a tax credit for the production of liquid coal last year.

Critics of the low-carbon provision included defense analysts at the RAND Corporation who have said that low-carbon biofuels are not cost effective, and the American Petroleum Institute is lobbying hard for the importation of oil from “friendly” Canada.

The U.S. Navy has disputed the RAND Corporation’s findings, the New York Times reports. The Department of Defense has also concluded that climate change is an “accelerant of instability” throughout the world; carbon concentrations in the atmosphere are a leading contributor to climate change.

Last year, the Pentagon set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by a third within a decade. That makes it necessary for 25 percent of its energy to come from renewable technologies.

The military burns through 120 million barrels of oil annually, and has begun projects to realize its renewable energy goals. Those projects include using biofuel blends in Air Force fighter jets, hybrid Army blimps, and an entire Marine Corps unit is now functioning entirely on solar power.

Solar power has reduced the Marines’ exposure to improvised explosive devices and has cut maintenance expenses, the military says.

Photo: U.S. Air Force/Flickr

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure