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Congress Trying Again to Repeal Ban on Carbon-Heavy Fuels for Military

But numerous Dept. of Defense representatives say they oppose repealing 'Section 526' because of national security and economic concerns

Jul 25, 2011
(Page 2 of 2 )
Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming

To support his conclusion, Dillon sent along a three-year-old letter from the Pentagon's general counsel office. The two-page letter, dated July 2008, not only labels Section 526 as overly broad but also emphasizes how difficult it would be to track the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of non-domestically produced fuels.

"Section 526 has the potential to generate significant problems for DoD in its procurement of fuels for the national defense," the letter addressed to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., stated. "It creates uncertainty about what fuels DoD can procure and will discourage the development of new sources, particularly reliable domestic sources, of energy supplies for the Armed Forces."

That letter referred to a previous attempt to block Section 526. This time around, Barrasso is leading the effort in the Senate via the American Alternative Fuels Act of 2011 (S.937). The bipartisan bill, introduced May 10, has GOP support from Wyoming's other senator, Mike Enzi, plus Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Dan Coats of Indiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is the sole Democratic co-sponsor. Other Republican senators have expressed interest in floating similar legislation.

Murkowski, the top Republican on the energy committee, voted for the 2007 comprehensive energy package. Barrasso, who joined the Senate just after its June vote on that energy package, opposed it during the final vote in December.

On the House side, an amendment folded into at least one appropriations bill for the fiscal year 2012 budget originated as legislation introduced by freshman Rep Morgan Griffith, R-Va., in late May.

Canada Urges Repeal

As expected, Canada wants to continue marketing its oil sands — Northeastern Alberta is referred to as the "Saudi Arabia" of diluted bitumen — to its southern neighbor.

So it's none too shocking that the former U.S. ambassador to Canada during the President George W. Bush administration is making the repeal of Section 526 a priority. David Wilkins is now a lobbyist for the Canadian oil producers.

The Hill, a Washington newspaper, reported July 18 that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has hired a firm where Wilkins now works called Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough.

"Our role is to advocate for Canadian energy and hopefully create a very positive environment for the Canadian oil-and-gas industry here in the United States," Wilkins is quoted as saying in the article.

The United States already imports the bulk of its oil from Canada. Plus, Alberta is recognized as having the world’s second-largest petroleum reserve, an estimated 1.71 trillion barrels of diluted bitumen. About 1.3 million barrels of crude are now produced daily in the oil sands, a number that is expected to more than double within the decade.

It's About Security

In early July, an official statement from the Pentagon made it clear that existing law has in no way prevented the department from meeting current mission needs. Plus, an array of prominent military officials has vociferously supported the one-paragraph Section 526 as a welcome ally in recent testimony before congressional committees.

For instance, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Norman Seip said removing Section 526 would be a step backward for U.S. security and clean energy innovation.

And Thomas Hicks, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy called Section 526 an effective policy tool.

"The more we replace foreign sources of oil with more diverse, domestically produced alternative fuels, the better we are as a military and the better we are as a nation," Hicks said in June 3 testimony before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

Recently, the military has forged ahead with a slew of initiatives revolving around alternative liquid fuels. The Department of Defense consumes 1 percent of the nation's total energy and 2 percent of the country’s petroleum, according to Pew Environment Group statistics.

For instance, two years ago Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced proposals for a Carrier Strike Group to sail on non-petroleum fuels by 2012 and to launch a Greta Green Fleet by 2016. In addition, the Navy and the Air Force have set 2016 as a deadline for half of their fuel supplies for fleets of fighters, bombers, transport planes and surface ships to be non-petroleum based blends.

"Biofuels will be cost-competitive within five years because there have been some real breakthroughs," Cuttino said, adding that a repeal of Section 526 would be a blow to the fledgling biofuels industry, the commercial airline business and U.S. taxpayers. "The Department of Defense can’t create the whole market but it can have significant pull."

The military isn’t necessarily switching from fossil fuels to more environmentally friendly sources because it’s a green enterprise, she noted. Primarily, authorities see the switch as a boon for long-term energy security and national security.

"This is trying to stop forward motion in American innovation," Cuttino said, referring to repeal efforts. "It could chill any potential advancements. Any attempt to roll back the clock to stop innovation is not good for the country."

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