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Liz Barratt-Brown’s Blog

DOD backs a federal ban on procurement of dirty fuels as Congress debates repeal

Liz Barratt-Brown

Posted July 12, 2011

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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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KateJul 13 2011 02:46 PM

No wonder Muammar Gaddafi is whipping your ass.

Fiat LuxJul 13 2011 03:54 PM

Kate, your statement is ridiculous for so many reasons. Firstly, and most obviously because the DOD is not even close to being "off" of oil, so that can't be the main reason that the conflict in Libya is not going as well as hoped. Secondly, would you really refer to Gaddafi's tactic of hiding in hospitals amongst civilians "whipping USA's ass"?

KateJul 14 2011 02:48 AM

When the DOD starts spouting alternative energy propaganda, it has lost sight of its core purpose. And it shows in your results on the battlefield. At the rate things are going, crazy ol' Muammar will outlast Obama.

GregJul 14 2011 12:43 PM

No worries, I'm sure India or China will be happy to buy our "dirty" oil.
Let me know how those solar powered tanks and wind turbine powered air craft carriers, battle cruisers work out for you.

I really hope, for the worlds sake, the USA survives "the Obama years".
Not looking like really good odds at this point

PeterJul 14 2011 12:49 PM

China is a far better customer than the US, their credit rating is much better and they don't have Obama. Also, if the US wants to rely on Arab oil then so be it. Muammar and the shieks will get the last laugh.

theredsuitJul 14 2011 12:54 PM

Greg is right!

We won't just take our ball and go home, we'll take it to the next court!

Garth WoodJul 14 2011 01:24 PM

Not only would India and China buy every drop of our "tar sands" oil, they'd be willing to do it at a premium and purchase and build out the existing Prince Rupert facility to facilitate the shipping.  Hell, they'd be willing to bankroll a pipeline and/or rail-line from Fort Mac to Rupert, too.

Plus start a "water bridge" to Asia consisting of tankers spaced three kilometres apart from one continent to the next.

Face it, Canada's "dirty oil" isn't going to magically stop pumping out of the ground because of environmentalist's misguided hate-on for the oil sands.  All that's going to happen is that the USA is going to become strategically challenged when it comes to energy over the next few decades.

Let 'em.  Petulant children always need to learn that the world doesn't work the way their fantasies of it do.

DanJul 14 2011 01:35 PM

Well, the DOD would rather fund the Arab terrorist states.......keeps DOD in a job, you know. Fund your enemy, to keep the war on terrorism going......

Fiat LuxJul 14 2011 04:44 PM

Wow, the ignorance in these comments is baffling. Sure, you can assume that tar sands oil will be sold to other nations if the U.S. doesn't want it, fair enough. Criticizing the DOD for wanting to go with renewable in the age of extreme and peak oil? Sounds like they hired the right people, all other armed forced will be paying through the nose for fossil fuels, the first army to go green will have huge monetary, tactical, and supply line advantages. If you take the time to inform yourself, you'll see that those in charge of the DOD are actually on to something:

BOB BRICKERJul 14 2011 07:50 PM

Wow the ignrance of these comments the first army to go green will be the one waving the white flag.

Rick in BCJul 14 2011 08:51 PM

"The first army to go green"?????

Maybe you're talking about the color of their uniforms or something.

Or maybe they should drop flowers instead of bombs. That' was suggested back in the '60s. From a green perspective it makes sense too, if you figure that one regular bomb wastes energy equal to what's saved by replacing about 400 billion incandescent light bulbs with CFLs.

However, if the other side is using regular bombs, the green army wouldn't have much of a chance.

JohnJul 14 2011 10:01 PM

Read Ezra Levants book " Ethical Oil".
Canada is a reliable supplier of oil with massive reserves that is next door. Worried about dirty? How about cleaning up the socialist and communists that have infiltrated the US government and want to destroy the USA from within. Obama bows down before scum & dictators while turning his back to friends and allies. Dirty? CLEAN UP YOUR SH*T AMERICA!

Frank EmmJul 14 2011 10:23 PM

Environmentalism is the new communism,I sure hope that the USA can survive Obama and his eco-facsists that are trying to destroy them.

Mark RJul 14 2011 11:55 PM

It is very sad to see what is coming of the USA under Obama.

DNJul 15 2011 04:20 AM

Actually, the highest concentration of ignorance is in the article, not the comments. First, there are no "alternative fuels" or "alternative energy sources" that are anywhere near replacing petroleum for military purposes. Second, if the ecozealots truly cannot see the difference in security between buying oil from your enemies and buying it from your friends, then America deserves to (continue to) decline - which of course is the ecozealot's principal goal anyway. Third, there is no empirical evidence - zero observed data - to support the contention that atmospheric carbon dioxide, let alone the tiny proportion thereof produced by humans, has any significant role in altering temperature. The AGW thesis is a zombie, sustained only by the religious beliefs of the enviromentalists, the scientific malfeasance of its advocates, and the scientific ignorance of the vast majority of politicians. Fourth, the biofuels industry is as artificial as the wind and solar energy industries, entirely dependent on government (re: taxpayer funded) handouts to survive, and noncompetitive in any legitimate sense. It is no an "alternative" to anything except market economics and prosperity.

Look, people have a right to their delusions, so long as they are willing to deal with the consequences; everyone who pulled the lever for Mr. Hopeychange ought to be realizing that right about now. But America's continuing fascination with discredited global warmism and environmentalist voodoo will only hasten its decline. And frankly that's bad for everyone, especially Canada. As a scientist and a former soldier, let me put it simply: any Defence officer or official who suggests structuring the military on any basis other than being able to kill more of the enemy and destroy more of his stuff faster than anyone else ought to be summarily fired as either an imbecile or a traitor, and replaced by someone who understands that the purpose of an army is to WIN WARS.

Wayne Gracy JuniorJul 15 2011 02:28 PM

If you don't "believe" in the AGW thesis, which was never discredited, then (edited — whatever the viewpoint, we insist on civility on our site, thank you – Ian @ NRDC) the NRDC site, and go spew your lies to the rest (edited) who think they get to choose weather or not to "believe" in sound science. Belief or faith is something you have when there is no evidence, when you ignore peer reviewed conclusions, you are not an unbeliever, you are just in denial of reality. I dare you to write a letter to your children and the children of the future and explain that how you know AGW is a hoax and that you will correspondingly do nothing about it. In 10 years, or 20 years, how do you think future generations will respond to you, because you're wrong, and its showing already and its just going to get worse. (Edited.)

RickJul 15 2011 06:23 PM

Wayne, DN's comment is much more sensible than yours. It seems that some of your language was edited out. Perhaps your emotional response shows how deeply (or not) you hold your "beliefs".

DN has pointed to a lack of proof of AGW. You offer no proof in response, only your "belief" in "peer reviewed" consensus. Your response summarized the global warming crown rather well; call them names, cite consensus, emotionally respond and never, ever, ever give facts.

JamesHalifaxJul 18 2011 12:45 PM

If you enviro-wacko's want to see what causes global warming....look up.

It's that big ball of burning hydrogen in the sky.

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