Senate to vote on military biofuels purchases

The Senate is scheduled to vote on Udall's amendment to sweeping defense policy legislation at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced the measure that blocked the Defense Department’s option to spend on biofuels when the bill was in the Senate Armed Services Committee. The House defense bill contains similar language.

He argued that biofuels are too expensive at a time when $500 billion of defense cuts are slated for the next decade. He also opposes using the military to expedite commercialization of energy technology.

“All these arguments that I’ve heard against it, none of them hold weight. All we’re doing is experimenting in green energy,” Inhofe said in a Wednesday floor speech.

Inhofe, along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), initiated his charge against the military biofuels program after learning the Navy paid $12 million for 450,000 gallons of biofuel, amounting to about $26 per gallon.

“This is something the [Department of Energy] should be doing if anybody is going to be doing it,” Inhofe said.

But the program has the support of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. They call it vital for energy security, saying it gives the military more fuel options and loosens it from foreign oil’s grip.

Udall’s amendment also comes on the heels of 38 senators, mostly Democrats, sending a letter earlier this month urging the chamber's leadership to scrap the language.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who signed the letter, said Wednesday that because the Defense Department is the nation’s largest energy user, “[f]luctuations in global energy prices can have a dramatic, dramatic” impact on spending.

Wyden said defense spending on research and development would help bring biofuel costs down. He called dollar-for-dollar comparisons between petroleum and biofuels are disingenuous because the fuel technology has not yet reached commercial scale.

This post was updated at 1:34 p.m.