DOD backs a federal ban on procurement of dirty fuels as Congress debates repeal
Posted July 12, 2011 in Moving Beyond Oil
In a short, but strongly worded statement, the Department of Defense (DOD) has weighed in in support of Section 526, the provision of the 2007 energy bill that requires federal agencies to make sure that the fuels they buy do not create more pollution and exacerbate global warming. The statement was sent to Congress on July 5 and reported in The Hill on July 8.
As our fossil fuel mix becomes more energy intensive, this provision requires that agencies not procure fuels with higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels. The House Defense Appropriations Act would bar the use of federal funds for implementing Section 526, thereby favoring the procurement of dirtier, more energy intense fuels by the DOD and other federal agencies.
The provision is critically important in building a secure demand for alternatives to high carbon fuels, such as sustainably grown next generation biofuels, and efficiency. This is for two reasons: First, DOD is the largest user of fuel in the country. This makes it an important and secure source for suppliers. Second, the U.S. government sends a strong signal to the private sector in its procurement policies. Signaling – as it did in its statement issued last week – that it supports the development of lower carbon fuels helps nascent biofuels companies gain a foothold in the fuels market. For the military, these alternatives are critical as moving fuel in war situations is difficult, costly and deadly. My colleague, Dan Weiss, at the Center for American Progress recently blogged on why the military is moving rapidly towards renewable fuels and why “the House wants to slow the military’s clean energy march.”
But what’s interesting is that DOD went quite a bit farther than supporting fuel diversification for its own operations. DOD stated that it is in our national security interest to keep Section 526 in place because reliance on non-renewable fuels actually degrades our national security and negatively impacts our economy. Here is the most important excerpt from DOD’s statement, regarding the idea of exempting the military from Section 526:
This exemption could further increase America's reliance on non-renewable fuels. Our dependence on those types of fuels degrades our national security, negatively impacts our economy, and harms our planet. This exemption would also send a negative signal to America's advanced biofuel industry and could result in adverse impacts to U.S. job creation, rural development efforts, and the export of world leading technology.
This is an extraordinary paragraph on a number of counts:
1) DOD is saying that reliance on non-renewable fuels actually degrades our national security, presumably because this reliance perpetuates our use of fossil fuels, most of which we have to import and that contribute to destabilizing climate change. Increasingly, military figures have weighed in with similar statements – such as Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus – but this is the first time we know of that the DOD has taken a position on Section 526 (Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Hicks, can be seen here testifying that “we are comfortable with Section 526”). Opponents of Section 526 have long argued that we need high carbon fuels, such as tar sands, liquid coal and oil shale, for our energy security. This has been the mainstay of their arguments in favor of the expansion of these fuels.
2) DOD is saying that reliance on non-renewable fuels negatively impacts our economy, presumably because it keeps us addicted to oil which is controlled by an unstable and expensive global market regardless of where the oil is produced. Opponents of Section 526 have also argued that the provision bars the development of fuels such as tar sands that will reduce the price of oil, even though the reality is quite different (Canada has not given the U.S. a break in price from the global market during high price spikes and is now pushing hard for a pipeline to the Gulf Coast to get higher prices for its tar sands oil).
3) DOD is arguing that these fuels harm our planet. That statement reflects a growing concern within the military establishment that climate change will contribute significantly to the depletion of resources vital to human survival such as water and food. But it could also create greater numbers of refugees as unpredictable weather created flooding, drought, failed crops, and heat waves. The President argued in his maiden speech abroad in February 2009 that we now have to think about national security as a combination of energy security, economic security and climate security. The three need to be in place to realize national security. Opponents of Section 526 have given undue weight to an increasingly outdated and dangerous idea that our energy security can only be accomplished through the acquisition and use of polluting, costly and destabilizing fossil fuels.
4) DOD is arguing that repealing Section 526 would harm the U.S. biofuels industry which it argues is creating jobs, including in rural areas, and technologies that could create an important export market for the U.S. For this reason, the biofuels industry has become more active in supporting this provision. However, their support is met head-on by the opposition of the powerful and very active oil industry lobby intent on keeping their domination of the fuels market. For Canada, the stakes are particularly high as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline debate continues to raise questions about the negative impact of our growing reliance on tar sands oil – whether that is due to potential spills along the pipeline route that could pollute key drinking and agricultural water sources, such as the Ogallala aquifer in the American Heartland, or locking the U.S. into high carbon fuel use for decades to come. A sustainable advanced biofuels industry could help replace foreign oil – which is foreign even if it comes from Canada – with home grown and renewable energy, creating jobs here in the U.S.
Finally, DOD states that the existing provision has “not, in any way, prevented the Department from meeting its current mission needs.” If that is the case, then there seems to be no reason to fix what is not broken but lots of reasons to keep this important provision in place.
The DOD statement could be a game-changer on the eve of the latest rounds of oil industry backed attempts to repeal the provision. But that will require the many members of Congress that have not weighed in on this provision to take the side of the DOD and put an end to this summer’s repeal efforts.
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