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Officials advocate for appropriation of military biofuel funding

By Erin Voegele | January 09, 2014

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack are advocating for the funding of military biofuels programs. On Jan. 2, the secretaries issued a letter to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, asking for support of the Defense Production Act biofuel efforts.  

The initiative, cosponsored by the USDA, U.S. DOE and U.S. Department of Defense, works with the private sector to accelerate the development of advanced biofuels. Within the letter, the secretaries asked Mikulski to continue her commitment to the effort by supporting President Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2014 to provide transfer authority for the Secretary of Energy for activates pursuant to the DPA and to provide the requested funding.

“America needs a diversified, balanced portfolio of energy options,” they wrote in the letter. “This is particularly true for the nation’s transportations sector which relies almost exclusively on liquid, petroleum-based fuels. Even as we have experienced very promising developments in the domestic oil and natural gas markets during this decade, oil prices remain tied to the global petroleum fuel market. As long as that is the case, America will be tethered to the persistent economic and security challenges associated with global oil markets. That is why an enduring strategy to increase energy efficiency and develop a competitive domestic renewable fuels industry will help strengthen our national security, lower costs for consumers, and reduce environmental impacts.”

Approximately one week before the secretaries issued the letter, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 into law. Within the text of the bill was a brief provision related to drop-in fuels. It indicates that the funds appropriated to the DOD could be used to make bulk purchases of drop-in fuels for operational purposes only if those fuels were cost-competitive with traditional petroleum-based fuels. It also included a waiver provision that allows the Secretary of Defense to waive the limitation as long as a notice of the waiver for the purchase is submitted to the congressional defense committees within 30 days.

Michael McAdams, president of the Advanced BioFuels Association, weighed in on the letter and appropriations process and told Biomass Magazine he thinks the outlook looks good for military efforts to use advanced biofuels.

McAdams stressed that for the first time in two years, military authorization legislation did not send any negative signals to the lawmakers in charge of appropriations with respect to programs concerning the use of advanced biofuels in the military. “The provisions in the authorization bill basically encourage the use of drop-in fuels by the military so long as they are economically competitive with other fuels,” he said, noting that there are two major pieces to the appropriations puzzle.

In the first piece of the puzzle the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee put forth an authorization bill. That step became complete when President Obama signed the NDAA into law on Dec. 26. In the second piece of the puzzle is the appropriations process where members of congressional appropriations committees appropriate funds to authorized programs. The letter issued by the secretaries essentially advocates for the appropriation of funds to authorized military biofuel programs.

“This is good news for advanced biofuels. The continued partnership and continued vision by the U.S. military to try to move forward with…[advanced biofuels] has great opportunity and is very helpful in [creating] a demand pull for our industry,” McAdams said. “Our hats off to the men and women in the U.S. military and to the vision of the three secretaries that signed this letter and continue to work with us on a daily basis to try to build this great industry.”