By KEITH JOHNSON
WASHINGTON -- The US Senate voted late Wednesday to let the
Navy keep buying alternative fuels, in a test of support for
the military's embrace of green energy.
The 62-37 vote cheered companies that make fuels from
unconventional sources, but the Pentagon's plans still could
get trimmed as Congress hashes out the 2013 defense funding
In its vote, the Senate rejected a measure introduced
earlier this year by Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.) that would
have banned the military from buying any fuel that costs more
than traditional fuel.
That measure would have prevented the Pentagon from buying
small batches of pricey biofuels such as the $26-per-gallon
cocktail the Navy used for its "Great Green Fleet" during
military exercises off Hawaii this summer. Those exercises used
cooking oil and algae blends to power ships, jets and
Military officials, especially those in the Navy and Marine
Corps, have been looking more closely in recent years at to
reduce the military's dependence on oil, which has grown more
than 20-fold since World War II.
The use of alternative fuels can also save lives in war zones.
Marine officials have pointed to very high casualty rates due
to fuel convoys, and the Marines have has greatly expanded
their use of solar power to reduce their need for diesel.
One plank of the Navy's plan, in conjunction with the
departments of Energy and Agriculture, is to spend more than
$500 million to jump-start construction of refineries that
could produce large volumes of biofuels.
The political battle over the Pentagon's alternative-energy
plans has been a major sticking point as Congress tries to pass
the 2013 defense authorization bill. Leading Republicans in
both chambers have been critical of the Pentagon's push at a
time of shrinking defense budgets.
Some naval experts question whether a shift to biofuels will make the fleet more
effective, while green proponents say the biofuels push could
lead to the creation of thousands of jobs.
The vote cheered the biofuels sector. Firms such as
Solazyme, which supplied the algae fuel for the summertime
exercise, and Novozymes North America, which doesn't yet have
any Pentagon contracts, believe Defense Department support for
the industry will be crucial to achieving scale. Solazyme
shares ended trading up more than 4% Wednesday.
Sen. Inhofe said the push to introduce biofuels to the Navy
wouldn't help the service and could cost as much as $1.8
billion per year. The secretary of the Navy, he said, should
"focus on readiness, not propping up the biofuels
A slate of Democratic senators, led by Mark Udall of
Colorado, defended the Navy's alternative-energy program, which
has been in the works for almost a decade.
"This is not about an environmental agenda or some sort of
green conspiracy," Mr. Udall said. The $12 million biofuel
purchase that angered some GOP lawmakers and led to the
proposed ban on new purchases amounts to about one-half of what
the Pentagon spends on military bands, Mr. Udall said.
Despite the Senate vote Wednesday, the Pentagon's
green-energy plans still face some obstacles. The House version
of the defense funding bill includes a similar prohibition on
biofuels purchases. The two bills
must be reconciled in conference.
Also, the Senate bill still says the Pentagon can't build a
biorefinery unless Congress
specifically authorizes it, thanks to an amendment introduced
by Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and approved by the Senate
Armed Services Committee in May.
Sen. Kay Hagan (D., N.C.) presented an amendment Wednesday that
would strike the McCain section of the bill, but it hadn't
received a vote as of Wednesday evening.
Dow Jones Newswires