SHAHEEN: MILITARY BIOFUELS KEY TO ENERGY INDEPENDENCE

November 28, 2012

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today applauded the passage of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that restored the Department of Defense’s ability to invest in advanced biofuels.  Senator Shaheen was a lead cosponsor and strong supporter of the amendment, which passed the Senate with significant bipartisan support by a vote of 62-37.

 “Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is critical to our national security,” said Shaheen. “Advanced biofuels have demonstrated the capability to power our most advanced military equipment, and are produced right here in the United States.  Our military leaders are committed to improving our nation’s energy security, and I am pleased that the Senate voted not to put arbitrary limits on their efforts.”

The amendment, introduced by Senator Mark Udall, repealed a provision in the NDAA bill which would have tied the hands of the U.S. military and prohibited the Department of Defense from purchasing advanced biofuels.  The U.S. Navy supported the effort by Udall and Shaheen to restore its ability to utilize home-grown alternative sources of energy.    

Senator Shaheen has long supported the military’s effort to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and was a leading voice on ensuring that our military has all the tools it needs to address the energy security challenges before it.  Earlier this year she published an op-ed with Senator Susan Collins of Maine in support of the military’s investment in advanced biofuels.  Shaheen also chaired an Energy Subcommittee hearing aboard the USS Kearsarge to highlight the U.S. Navy’s advancements in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Below are her remarks in support of the amendment, as prepared for delivery:

                Thank you Mr. President.  I rise today in support of Senator Udall and his amendment, which would restore the Department of Defenses’ ability to invest in advanced biofuels.  I don’t think we should be tying the hands of our military as they attempt to manage a significant national security threat – our energy dependence.   

As our nation has become more technology dependent, our energy use has increased dramatically.  Businesses and families are more conscious than ever of how they use energy and its costs.  Our military is no different. 

Advanced technology has not only reshaped our economy, it has also changed how we think about defense.  No matter how you look at it, as long as we are dependent on other nations for our energy, we have a fundamental strategic vulnerability.  Fortunately, for the first time since the oil crisis in 1979, our military is making real progress addressing it.  I hope we will get out of their way.

Over the past ten years the Department of Defense has invested significant time and resources into improving our nation’s energy security.

Energy security is not some sort of feel-good, “pie in the sky” goal that would be nice to have.  Energy security is imperative to the success of today’s military, and it becomes more critical with each passing generation.

As our Current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dempsey has said, “Without improving our energy security, we are not merely standing still as a military or as a nation, we are falling behind.”

Let’s be clear:  Energy security is national security.  Our military leadership understands this.  Our Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines understand this.  Other countries – including some of our strongest competitors – also understand this.  And we ignore this fact at our own peril. 

I saw the Navy’s new stern flaps in person earlier this year during an Energy Subcommittee hearing I chaired aboard the USS Kearsarge down in NorfolkThe purpose of the hearing was to highlight the significant advancements the Navy continues to make in both energy efficiency and harnessing new, renewable energy resources.  One of those important, home-grown energy resources is biofuels.  

Biofuels offer reliable, domestic energy, capable of powering our most advanced military equipment. The Navy recently demonstrated the capabilities of advanced biofuels during a massive exercise that featured a Carrier Strike Group powered exclusively on renewable energy, highlighted by an F-18 traveling at twice the speed of sound and a ship traveling at 50 knots.

Despite biofuels’ impressive performance record and their potential strategic impact, we continue to hear two arguments against further investment by the Department of Defense. 

The first is that energy investments should be handled by the Department of Energy and not the Department of Defense. 

 

Energy security is going to require an all-of-government approach, and that is the direction we are currently going with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy playing a fundamental role on the biofuels initiative.  In addition, as the largest fuel consumer in the world today – and by far the largest in the U.S. government – the Department of Defense has a special role to play in this effort.

Moreover, because of our dependence we continually send our men and women in uniform into harm’s way to maintain our access.  In the past year alone, the Arab Spring, conflict in Libya, and the threat of Iranian mining of the Strait of Hormuz have all demonstrated the challenges of assuring continuous access to overseas oil.

Not only is access to oil difficult to maintain, instability in the global price of oil continues to plague our economy and our defense budget as well.  Every $1 dollar increase in the price of oil per barrel costs DOD $130 million.  Last year alone, the Department was force to shuffle $1.3 billion from other accounts to cover increased fuel costs.

The second criticism we often hear is that biofuels are too expensive. 

It is true that advanced biofuels are not yet in full production and cannot compete with an oil market that is over 100 years old.  However, DOD investment has caused the price to drop dramatically over the last two years.  Moreover, biofuels are more immune from the price-shocks that are increasingly consuming our defense budget. 

In addition, as many of you know, there are significant costs to traditional foreign sources of energy – unseen at the gas pump – associated with protecting our shipping lanes and oil supplies.  For over 60 years, we have been patrolling the Persian Gulf.  These costs for oil that remain underappreciated.

The fact is, throughout its history, our military has played a leading role in energy innovation and development.  From wind, to coal, to oil, to nuclear power, their ability to exploit new forms of energy has been key to our nation’s technological edge and combat effectiveness.  As Admiral Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, has noted, “efforts to reduce the Navy’s dependence on fossil fuels and outdated energy technologies is in the finest traditions of military scientific leadership.”

For our military the issue of energy security and investment in biofuels is simple: dependence on foreign oil is a strategic vulnerability, creates problematic fluctuations in the defense budget, and puts our men and women in uniform at unnecessary risk.

We need to make sure our military leaders are able to continue their historic tradition of identifying long-term challenges and seeking innovative ways to solve them.  Energy use is no different and nothing – including the Congress – should get in the way.  We can’t allow the debate over the military’s energy use to become a proxy for other ideological debates around energy.  We should let our military do what it does best.  We should let them lead. 

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