Navy pushes forward with 'Green Fleet' despite GOP resistance

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus insisted plans for a "green fleet" that uses biofuels will move forward despite efforts by Republicans in Congress to stop it.

The Navy hosted a refueling demonstration of its “Great Green Fleet” aircraft carrier strike group on Wednesday off the coast of Hawaii. The fleet used a 50-50 mix of petroleum and advanced biofuels made from cooking oil and algae.

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Mabus said Thursday that continued Navy biofuels use will create markets that help drive prices down. He added that having an alternative fuel source will keep Navy costs down because it will be less affected by oil market volatility.

“The Navy always said it’s not going to buy large amounts of these until they’re cost competitive,” Mabus said. “But one of the ways [we make them cost competitive] is by the military providing the market for it, and we’ve done that with technology. If we only looked at nuclear costs, we wouldn’t have nuclear submarines.”

But language in the Senate and the House Defense authorization bills might make that difficult.

Lawmakers say biofuels cost too much. Both the Senate and House bills bar the Navy from buying biofuels if they cost more than conventional fuel.

The Senate version also prevents spending on bio-refineries to accelerate commercialization of experimental biofuels.

That also would make it difficult to make biofuels cost competitive with conventional fuel, meaning the Navy could not buy biofuels under the Senate and House spending bills.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who introduced that language as amendments to the Senate spending bill, both oppose using the military for building markets.

Biofuels are an unwise investment with the upcoming budget sequestration that will cut $500 billion from the Defense Department through 10 years, McCain has warned.

Some Senate Democrats hinted this week that they could try to remove the McCain and Inhofe amendments whenever the Defense spending bill is called on the Senate floor. Another course of action is tacking on an amendment explicitly permitting the Navy to buy biofuels.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said Tuesday he backed efforts to put the biofuels measures back into the bill on the Senate floor.

“I’m all for it,” Levin told reporters.

Such efforts would also get support from the White House.

Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, reaffirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to biofuels as a means of achieving energy independence for the military. She said Thursday that the administration views “the efforts by some in Congress … as both disappointing and short-sighted.”