Republicans in both the House and Senate this year have proposed cutting funds for alternative-energy programs in the defense authorization bill. But these efforts won’t gain much traction, National Journal’s Energy & Environment Insiders say.
More than 70 percent of Insiders say that the Defense Department’s move to use more biofuels will survive congressional opposition, arguing that lawmakers will have trouble saying no to the Pentagon.
“Despite the GOP’s overzealous pursuit to end any program that doesn’t line the pockets of big oil, this program likely survives because DOD doesn’t actually answer to Congress,” one Insider said.
In particular, arguing in favor of cutting military biofuels spending becomes an uphill battle when Pentagon officials, military veterans, and former lawmakers are saying that the spending is needed to save lives in war zones.
“The biofuel initiatives aren’t all about greener energy, but ways to meet energy requirements in the field that put fewer lives at risk (particularly in convoys). If biofuels can improve operations in the field, the work will continue,” one Insider said.
Pentagon officials have long argued that alternative energy can save both money—by reducing dependence on oil—and lives, because American fuel convoys are often targeted in attacks.
“The facts can’t be ignored—DOD and America are too dependent on foreign oil and it costs too much in blood and money,” one Insider said.
There’s also “electoral logic” to increased biofuels spending, another Insider said. Investment in biofuels, whether it comes from the Defense Department or anywhere else, plays well in farm states that could see new jobs and industry growth from these efforts.
In that regard, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been a prominent part of a number of Pentagon biofuels announcements and regularly appears alongside Navy Secretary Ray Mabus touting the Navy’s new biofuel-powered “Great Green Fleet,” which saw its first successful demonstration during maritime exercises off the coast of Hawaii last week.
Although House lawmakers in May passed a provision in the defense authorization bill to prevent the military from purchasing alternative fuels that exceed the cost of “traditional fossil fuel,” and the Senate version included similar provisions, Insiders agree that such efforts are not likely to survive the final conference on the bill.
“Congress can stop DOD only if it enacts a law. Enacting laws has not exactly been a signature strength of this Congress,” one Insider cracked.
Still, 29 percent of Insiders think that the military biofuels push will not succeed, especially at a time when the Defense Department is already facing significant cuts.
“It won’t survive at current levels,” one Insider said. “With rescission looming large at the Pentagon, an expensive program with political opposition won’t survive in full.”
Most Insiders said that military investments in renewable energy will spur similar investments in the private sector. Thirty-one percent of Insiders said that the Defense Department's investments are 'very likely' to encourage an alternative-energy push from industry.
"DOD is validating the performance of replacement biofuels in practice and reducing the technical uncertainty surrounding their production processes. Both these developments will spur additional attention and work in the private sector," one Insider said.
"The military had a track record of investing and developing nascent technologies that eventually become part of the mainstream consumer experience in this country. Think Internet, smartphones, etc.," another Insider added.
But the rest of the Insiders were split on what effect the Pentagon's efforts might actually have on the private sector—28 percent voted "somewhat likely," another 28 percent voted "not very likely," and 13 percent said "not at all."
"The petroleum market is close to $3 trillion per year," one Insider said. "If garnering a share of that market isn't incentive enough for a competitive alternative, then the military program won't make much difference."
The Pentagon’s green-energy program hit a speed bump with an effort by congressional Republicans to cut funding for biofuel spending from the defense authorization bill. Will the Defense Department’s push for greater use of alternative energy survive opposition in Congress?
- Yes 71%
- No 29%
“While House Republicans equate biofuels in the military with climate change and curvature of the earth, Defense Secretary [Leon] Panetta and the Senate majority will keep those caissons rolling on renewable energy.”
“There almost certainly will be some military biofuel spending even if Congress trims it substantially.”
“There is generally a bipartisan consensus that the U.S. military should have the maximum number of options, which impacts mission, capability, and saving lives.”
“The nation's security depends upon nimbler, smarter, more-efficient energy supplies—and fortunately, the military GETS this fact, because it faces this truth on a daily basis."
“Biofuels are stupid energy policy, but there is an electoral logic, especially in farm states well represented in the Senate, so the Senate will block House efforts to stop DOD from wasting money buying farm votes on biofuels.”
“The ultimate fate of the DOD biofuels program will be decided by the outcome of the presidential election in November.”
“Both uniformed and civilian leaders in the military support advanced biofuels—and that support started under [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld. Oh, and the fuels work. They're not going anywhere.”
“Congressional Republicans want a partisan fight over the administration's 'Green Agenda,' but they will fail when they realize this is a defense-driven agenda by military leaders and personnel to enhance our nation's security.”
“While it might survive this year, it will not survive a Republican Congress next year or the military indefinitely. Today, the military brass are only giving it lip service.”
“A decade of wars, the volatility of a global commodity, and DOD dependence as the largest consumer of liquid fuels in the world make diversifying energy sources a national-security imperative.”
“With the economy still shaky, voters won't reward candidates that emphasize environmental issues.”
“With Europe increasing their consumption of coal, international agreements on climate change will take a back seat. More importantly, the issue does not play well in battleground states.”
“Climate change will not be an election issue, other than lobbing some political grenades by Republicans in coal and oil regions which might attract votes”
“Historically, environmental issues are only important in presidential elections when there are no 'guns and butter' issues. The 'butter' issues this year push climate change off the radar screen. It does not help that environmental groups have become part of the Democratic Party—they are taken for granted by Democrats and have no appeal to Republicans, and that is a poor foundation for significant legislative change. Obvious strategic error, assuming these groups are actually interested in change, not fundraising.”
“There's a clear difference between Obama and Romney (and for that matter, the [John] McCain of 2008 and Romney) on climate, but economic issues will trump just about everything else this year, including climate.”
“We've come a long way—or rather, we've taken a lot of steps backward—since 2008. It's amazing to think about how much more polarizing an issue climate change is today than it was during that election. No way will it be a major issue, though energy security and domestic production surely will.”
“The political scars of Waxman/Markey and Kerry/Lieberman/Graham are too deep—both sides will continue to avoid climate change in the campaign as much as possible.”
“Senator McCain had a long, public history of urging action on climate change. Since that time, the opposite has become a litmus test for whether one is a true Republican.”
How likely are the military’s investments in renewable energy to spur similar investments in the private sector?
- Very Likely 31%
- Somewhat Likely 28%
- Not Very Likely 28%
- Not at All 13%
- Other (please explain) 0%
"The military had a track record of investing and developing nascent technologies that eventually become part of the mainstream consumer experience in this county. Think Internet, smartphones, etc."
"This will likely be even more successful with commercially viable, drop-in bio-based fuel options."
"DOD is validating the performance of replacement biofuels in practice and reducing the technical uncertainty surrounding their production processes. Both these developments will spur additional attention and work in the private sector."
"DOD's partnership with private sector and its ability to require or leverage significant private investment to develop or deploy technologies has been a resounding success ... the Internet, GPS, semiconductors, nuclear power. Advanced biofuels is just another in a long line of efforts to enhance our energy security, protect the lives of American warfighters, and shield the Pentagon's budget. And, on advanced biofuels, the Pentagon is requiring the private sector to more than match public investments."
"With defense spending accounting for 4.5 percent of GDP, Pentagon investments in renewable energy function as important research and development for subsequent private investment."
"The military has always been a leader when it comes to technological innovation. Firms supplying biofuels to the Pentagon have cut fuel costs by 80 percent in the past few years—that benefits the private sector too. We should hope the military's investment continues, so that costs and deployment of advanced biofuels expand even further."
"If the Pentagon starts using biofuels in any large ratio, it could bend the cost curve down for the private sector ... especially the aviation industry. Though not at all for renewable electricity."
"Somewhat likely—although that shouldn't matter. These are military capabilities that are needed to ensure national security. We should make the investment regardless of the likelihood to spur similar investments in the private sector."
"Perhaps jaded by all the unfulfilled promises of climate legislation or CES/RES programs, the market participants we've met with are not relying on the military programs to survive or break through. They appear to view the DOD opportunity as a possible large incremental market if it comes together."
Not Very Likely
"Profitable technologies trickle down; wasteful technologies evaporate."
"Investments in renewable energy are benefiting more from all of the federal subsidies and mandates currently in place. The DOD is merely serving as another example of that. All of these market distortions are actually hindering progress in the renewable-energy field."
"The petroleum market is close to $3 trillion per year. If garnering a share of that market isn't incentive enough for a competitive alternative, then the military program won't make much difference."
Not at All
"The private sector—like most consumers—will toy with green technologies, but only if the premium is small—not a multiple of the conventional price."
"Not clear what DOD can do that the [Renewable Fuels Standard] isn't already doing."
National Journal’s Energy and Environment Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of energy policy experts. They include:
Jeff Anderson, Paul Bailey, Kenneth Berlin, Andrew J. Black, Denise Bode, Kevin Book, Pat Bousliman, Michael Bromwich, David Brown, Neil Brown, Stephen Brown, Kateri Callahan, McKie Campbell, Guy Caruso, Neil Chatterjee, Paul Cicio, Douglas Clapp, Eileen Claussen, Steve Cochran, Phyllis Cuttino, Kyle Danish, Lee Dehihns, Robbie Diamond, David Di Martino, Bob Dinneen, Sean Donahue, Tom Dower, Jeff Duncan, John Felmy, Mike Ference, David Foster, Josh Freed, Don Furman, Paul Gilman, Richard Glick, Kate Gordon, Chuck Gray, Jason Grumet, Christopher Guith, Lewis Hay, Fritz Hirst, Jeff Holmstead, David Holt, Skip Horvath, Bob Irvin, Bill Johnson, Gene Karpinski, Joseph T. Kelliher, Brian Kennedy, Kevin Knobloch, David Kreutzer, Fred Krupp, Tom Kuhn, Con Lass, Mindy Lubber, Frank Maisano, Drew Maloney, Roger Martella, John McArther, Mike McKenna, Bill McKibben, Kristina Moore, Richard Myers, Aric Newhouse, Frank O’Donnell, Mike Olson, T. Boone Pickens, Thomas Pyle, Hal Quinn, Rhone Resch, Barry Russell, Joseph Schultz, Bob Simon, Scott Sklar, Bill Snape, Jeff Sterba, Linda Stuntz, Christine Tezak, Susan Tierney, Andrew Wheeler, Brian Wolff, Franz Wuerfmannsdobler, and Todd Young.
This article appears in the July 26, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.