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Military Biofuels Ban Moves Forward, Ignites Criticism, Backlash

As a proposed ban on military investment and use of biofuels inches closer to fruition in Washington, several groups are speaking out against the bill.

Pentagon Budget Bill, H.R. 4310, which recently passed through the Senate Armed Services Committee with a 13-12 vote and the House with a 299-120 vote, blocks the military from purchasing and investing in biofuels if they are more expensive than fossil fuels. The bill also exempts previous restrictions on liquid alternative fuels derived from coal and natural gas, which emit more carbon than traditional fossil fuels.

A coalition of 13 aviation groups have banded together to protest the decision, claiming in a letter to the Senate Committee that the bill would severely damage the advancement of the biofuels industry and hinder American energy independence. The coalition also argued that further investment in bioenergy will help reach their fuel efficiency and carbon emissions targets, which include a lofty goal of a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 from 2005 targets.

“We believe the ongoing military and civil aviation efforts must be continued and we strongly advocate that you prioritize and fund investment in aviation biofuels in what we all acknowledge is a difficult fiscal environment. Ultimately, we are convinced that this is an investment that will pay off by saving taxpayers millions through achieving energy security and independence.”

Liberal-activist group CREDO Action has also started a petition addressed to Republican Senators and Representatives to stop the bill from moving forward.

“It is outrageous that Republicans are working to block the military from developing biofuels that will save lives and save money. Stop protecting Big Oil's profits at the expense of our troops and our national security,” the petition reads. “Republicans love to talk about ‘supporting the troops.’ We need to remind them that that should mean our soldiers in harm's way, not oil industry lobbyists.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expressed his disbelief and frustration with the Committee’s decision during a conference call last week.

“It's beyond me why we wouldn't help this industry that will create higher farm income, more jobs in rural America, reduce the costs for consumers, satisfy commercial airlines ... and make our military less reliant on a foreign supply of energy,” said Vilsack. “It is just astounding that people don't understand that."

Vislack explained that the future of the biofuels industry is closely tied with the military, especially the Navy, and investments today will help bring down costs in the future – and costs have already come down. The Navy purchased biofuels in October 2010 at $424 per gallon, but paid $26.67 per gallon in December 2011, which will be demonstrated in a 50/50 blend of biofuel and petroleum that costs $15 per gallon during this month’s Rim of the Pacific Exercise in Hawaii. Though the industry is still very much in the research and development phase, prices cannot drop without continued support.

Said Vilsack, “Government has a role to work in partnership with the private sector to provide incentives, to provide the right tax policy, to provide assistance to get these industries up and going.”

Image: wong yu liang via Shutterstock

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