News for the everyday environmentalist
ROUGH WATERS FOR THE GREAT GREEN FLEET
Does it make sense for one of the largest US users of petroleum-based fuels to lead the movement away from petroleum to biofuels? This huge user - the US military - spends billions of dollars every year on jet fuel, gasoline, diesel fuel and other petroleum products. They spend so much that no accurate figure is available. What is known is that in addition to the costs of the fuel itself, the costs associated with shipping and security of fuel can add up to hundreds of dollars per barrel. Not to mention the cost in lives. According to a study conducted by the US military, one in eight casualties in the Iraq war was suffered by US troops protecting fuel convoys.
These are all factors in the movement by the US Navy and other services to replace petroleum with renewable and non-polluting biofuels. And there has been a good deal of success. Long-term and large-scale purchase contracts with biofuel producers have "jump-started" that industry. As a result biofuel producers have been growing and improving their product(s) and infrastructure. Equally important they have been reducing the price of biofuels and are closing the gap between the cost of petroleum vs. biofuels. According to an article from the website renewableenergyworld.com published on Friday, June 8, "The Navy purchased biofuels in October 2010 at $424 per gallon, but paid $26.67 per gallon in December 2011. Since then, a 50/50 blend of biofuel and petroleum that costs $15 per gallon has been developed..."
As of this writing biofuels were in the middle of a full-on field test during this years' Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise in Hawaii. RIMPAC is a long-running multi-national naval military exercise. This years' edition will involve over 25,000 sailors and other military personnel from 22 countries. Along with surface ships, submarines, airplanes and helicopters. According to the US Navy/RIMPAC website "One new part of the drills is the use of a cooking oil and algae biofuel blend to power some of the U.S. vessels and aircraft. The Navy is spending $12 million to buy 425,000 gallons of biofuel for the exercises." Though the industry is still very much in the research and development phase, prices cannot drop without continued support.
With all this in mind it would almost any observer would conclude the policy and practice of developing more biofuel capacity in the US is a good thing. We now have renewable, non-polluting, domestically sourced, field tested fuels. Jet aircraft, heavy tanks and other diesel equipment, and Navy ships have used these fuels successfully.
The reality is, no surprise here, that the movement toward biofuels in the US military has extensive and powerful opposition. No surprise either, that in today's supercharged political atmosphere the same folks who form the party of "NO" to just about everything are leading the fight against biofuels. According to the renewableenergyworld.com article quoted above, " 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." In short, Republican politicians are holding hostage our transition to renewable, non-polluting fuels by hamstringing an organization that has the ability, through its purchasing power, to be a genuine "game changer."
WHAT WE CAN DO
This is a difficult issue for any individual to confront. The size and scope of the effort to derail biofuels for the US military, and by extension the rest of industrial America, is daunting. The good news is that there are ways for us all to magnify our individual voices. Joining with others in organized, (and sometimes not-so-organized) campaigns will add weight to the effort. In this case an organization called CREDO Action is among the leaders in organizing political action in favor of biofuels. Their website features an online petition as well excellent archives and general information on biofuel development. For more information here is a link to a Google Search for "US Biofuels."
It is also important to remember that the movement to build the US Navy's "Great Green Fleet" already has significant traction and is generating more support daily. With this in mind we should remember that our vote in the upcoming election is important. We have some clear choices. Now it is up to us to sift through the campaign rhetoric and make the right decision.