Center for Strategic Communication

Photo credit: US Navy. The Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187), delivers a 50-50 blend of advanced biofuels and traditional petroleum-based fuel to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) during the Great Green Fleet demonstration portion of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2012.

The U.S. Senate today took up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the central piece of legislation that outlines how the Defense Department will be funded and how it will spend its money. As the end of the year draws near, the military is growing concerned about the inability of Congress to pass the NDAA, without which DoD will need to begin cutting programs.

There are several hang-ups in the NDAA.  One key issue was the inclusion of language that would prohibit the Defense Department from the “production or purchase” of any alternatives fuels that cost more than traditional petroleum-based fuels. The language was targeted at DoD’s biofuels program, which ASP has written about extensively.

Biofuels may be more expensive in the short-term, but as the largest consumer of energy in the nation, the Defense Department can drive down the cost of producing biofuels through its investments. In fact, the Department of Energy predicts that the cost of biofuels could be as low as $2.32 a gallon by 2017. But, realizing that achievement in five years depends on the decisions we make today.

As Lt. General Norman Seip, USAF (Ret.), an ASP Consensus Member, noted in an Op-ed earlier this week, “What if Congress would’ve passed similar legislation prohibiting the military from developing GPS until satellites cost less than charts and maps; or banned the use of jet fuel until it was cheaper than a gallon of regular?”

Reducing energy consumption is critical to DoD’s mission of ensuring the safety of America and its citizens. As a DoD report in 2008 notes, “the payoff to DOD from reduced fuel demand in terms of mission effectiveness and human lives is probably greater than for any other energy user in the world.”

Recently, a bipartisan group of 38 Senators sent a letter Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposing the restriction.

Today, the Senate decided to take up the NDAA legislation.

Senator Mark Udall sponsored an amendment that would strip the language that prohibits investments in biofuels from the NDAA. He spoke on the Senate floor, discussing the critical role that alternative fuels play in national security. He touched on the price volatility that damages the Defense budget, the lives lost because of dependence on fuel lines, and the strategic vulnerability that we as a nation are exposed to due to our dependence on oil.

The amendment was voted on this afternoon and passed 62-37.

By passing this amendment, which was a bipartisan effort, the Senate has restored DoD’s authority to invest in alternative fuels that it believes will enhance national security.