Biofuels cuts harmful to energy security

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The bad news is that not everyone sees the importance of the military’s investment in biofuels. The high price of gas has prompted a few politicians to turn against these fuels, and unfortunately Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) is among them. Senator Toomey has been a strong supporter of our armed forces and veterans in the past, but this time he’s got it wrong, and if he succeeds he’ll be dealing our troops a significant setback. As a Pennsylvania resident I am disappointed, and as a veteran, I am outraged.

Right now the Department of Defense invests a small portion – about four percent – of its energy initiatives budget in alternative fuels. Senator Toomey would like to cut that investment to zero. That small investment, however, has big benefits. It is already making it possible for our ships, planes and ground vehicles to run on a wide range of fuels. That kind of flexibility makes it easier for our troops to adapt and fight effectively.

I have seen firsthand the importance of energy security and flexibility. I led the medical team for the first ground troops who entered Iraq in 2003, overseeing the care of over 1,500 Marines and sailors and treating over 300 trauma injuries as the first physician on the scene. When troops and equipment are more mobile and more adaptable, they are more capable of avoiding situations with a high potential for casualties. As long as we are stuck with a single fuel source – oil – we will remain less flexible and agile than we could be, and that will cost lives.

There’s also a simple dollars-and-cents reason to protect military biofuels. According to DoD, every 25-cent increase in the price of a gallon of oil costs the military $1 billion in additional fuel costs. Oil prices rise and fall constantly, as anyone who’s gassed up lately knows, and that price volatility means an unpredictable military budgeting process that can hamstring basic military functions from medical care to essential training and readiness. It is naïve to think that the price of oil will go down and our problems will vanish. According to the International Energy Agency, even if we expand domestic oil drilling in the near term, oil will still cost over $215 per barrel in 2035.

The military is poised to lead the shift away from oil, toward domestic, stable and safe fuel alternatives. Our history of technological breakthroughs supports this claim; the military played a critical role in the development of what are now everyday technologies, like GPS and microchips. As with these technologies, military biofuels innovation will translate into cheap biofuels in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

Cutting funding for biofuels now would erase the progress our military has made and imperil technologies that are being used by the warfighter today. Weakening national security and stifling innovation in any circumstance is a bad idea, and Senator Toomey should know that. I hope that he sees the light and recognizes the importance of operational flexibility for our Navy and all service branches. And I hope our troops continue to benefit from this clean, homegrown fuel.

Dr. Trivedi is an Iraq war veteran, board-certified internal medicine physician and a spokesman for the clean energy campaign, Operation Free.