Senate votes to save the Navy’s plans for pushing biofuels

posted at 2:41 pm on November 30, 2012 by Erika Johnsen

During this trying fiscal time, when we’re bumping up against our debt ceiling and facing monstrously huge unfunded liabilities, and when any sane person can acknowledge that deep cuts to the national budget must be made, it’s comforting to know that we can at least come together and agree to shave off some of the more out-there, experimental, subsidy-type proposals that we really don’t need.

I jest, of course.

Despite the Pentagon’s dire predictions about the disastrous implications of the sudden budget cuts that will come with sequestration, the Navy has been formulating plans to eventually dispatch a fleet run on biofuels — which happen to be vastly more expensive than their traditional fuel supplies. Wired explains:

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus trumpeted the program as key to service’s long-term stability, pledging $170 million to kickstart the wobbly biofuel industry, promising to get half the Navy’s fuel from alternative sources by 2020, and making plans to dispatch an eco-friendly “Great Green Fleet” in 2016.

But the ambitious plan appeared to be all but dead in May. Some Congressmen were ticked off by the $15 per-gallon price — four times the going rate for old-school fuel — and wary of the White House’s interest in green technologies after the meltdown of Solyndra, the administration-friendly solar firm. Nor did key lawmakers much care for Mabus’ push for the alternative fuels at a time when the budgets for ships and sailors were rapidly shrinking. A little-noticed Defense Department report surfaced showing that the Navy could spend as much as an extra $1.76 billion per year on biofuel.

If biofuels really are the way of the future, then great, but the Obama administration seems imperturbably convinced that it’s up to them to immediately force fruition out of the endeavor. If biofuels have the ability to become competitive, they’ll be just fine, and subsidies and special treatment are no way to encourage price efficiency — most especially when we have absolutely no money left in the coffers for this kind of stuff. But, of course, all fledgling-and-failing green industries have their lobbies, ergo… via Reuters:

The Senate voted 62-37 to remove language in the National Defense Authorization Act that would have barred the military from buying the controversial alternative fuels if they cost more than petroleum. …

“This would have been a terrible signal to private investors if there had been a pullback from this program because what we all want is for these advanced biofuels to become commercialized and therefore cost competitive,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director of Clean Energy Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has set a goal of using biofuels to supply about half the Navy’s non-nuclear fuel needs by 2020, about 8 million barrels a year.

The House will have to reconcile their own version of the NDAA with the Senate’s, and the removal of the biofuels-restricting provision will likely be the subject of a little more frugal scrutiny in the Republican-controlled chamber, especially since the program was one that Obama praised as part of his administration’s widespread greenifying-efforts — but get ready to see a lot more of these expensive, under-the-radar, green pet projects coming out of the White House in Obama’s second term.


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