Senate Backs Advanced Biofuels

By Michael Mcadams | January 07, 2013

In a series of critical votes at the end of November, the U.S. Senate went on record as strongly backing an aggressive federal strategy for advanced biofuels. 

This was the industry’s first major test after the harsh rhetoric of the previous two years. In an effort to embarrass the Obama administration, many naysayers had been comparing renewable energy to Solyndra and “fictional fuels.”  Some, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had successfully imposed restrictions on use of advanced biofuels when the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, the legislation that funds the military.

The issue came to a head soon after the election, when the full Senate considered the legislation approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 62 to 37, the Senate first struck prohibitions from the legislation that would have restricted the military’s ability to purchase advanced biofuels. Sponsored by Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, the Senate action had the backing of a broad coalition of groups, ranging from biofuels producers such as the Advanced Biofuels Association, Algae Biomass Organization and the Biotechnology Industry Organization, to energy security groups, the airline industry, farm organizations and environmental groups. Since the House-passed version of the NDAA has this prohibition, the issue will be resolved in a Senate-House conference committee.  

 The second vote removed language proposed in committee by McCain that would have barred use of federal funds for the building of advanced biofuels drop-in capacity. In a 54 to 41 vote, this amendment again received strong bipartisan backing. Sens. Udall, Collins, Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., were the primary sponsors. Since the House-passed bill contains no provision similar to that proposed by McCain, there is no issue for the conference committee to consider, and the proposed ban will not be in the final legislation. 

 These two votes were resounding endorsements for the efforts of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and the Obama administration to use advanced drop-in biofuels. Moreover, it was a major turnaround from the negative votes that took place in the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in 2011 and 2012. 

Despite these Senate victories, there are some who will spend enormous sums in an effort to undermine the advanced biofuels initiative, particularly in the House and Senate conference committee. For that reason, we must continue to work to educate many of the members from rural America who benefit from these specific programs. 

These victories were an important step in securing America’s energy future. Thank you to all of you who called, wrote or visited with a member of Congress to support this effort.

Author: Michael McAdams
President, Advanced Biofuels Association