By Senator James Inhofe
As the Department of Defense (DoD) faces drastic budget cuts, the last thing the military needs is to be forced by President Obama to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on an expensive green energy agenda.
This week President Obama's green regime at the Pentagon will be in the spotlight as the U.S. Navy's "Great Green Fleet" -- a strike group that the Obama administration hopes to run completely on alternative fuels by 2016 -- sets sail as part of training exercises in the Pacific. One would think the fleet would take to the seas with a great deal of fanfare, but the Navy has kept it quiet and it's not difficult to figure out why. President Obama clearly doesn't want the American people to know how much his plan to green the military will cost. As Wired magazine uncovered, a recent DoD report revealed that their biofuels program will amount to an extra $1.8 billion a year in fuel costs for the Navy alone.
This ludicrous pricetag is not surprising: through Congressional oversight efforts, we found that in 2009, the Navy paid an outrageous $424 per gallon for 20,000 gallons of renewable diesel, and in December 2011, the Navy purchased 450,000 gallons of biofuel for $12 million, equaling about $27 a gallon. The Navy is not the only service being subject to this great greening agenda: last month, the Air Force bought 11,000 gallons of alcohol-to-jet fuel at $59 a gallon, twice as much per gallon as what the Navy was forced to spend. And all of this is being done by the Obama administration while the president guts our military.
DoD has been forced to drastically cut its personnel, the number of brigade combat teams, ships, fighters, and airlift, and it has had to eliminate or postpone critical military modernization programs. Thanks to President Obama, DoD can't afford business as usual yet they are being coerced into spending $27 a gallon? Secretary Panetta has been warning repeatedly that President Obama's deep cuts will have a devastating effect on our military. Knowing this, how can anyone support depleting another $1.8 billion from an already stretched budget?
In justifying their completely skewed priorities, President Obama and his administration have maintained that they are moving forward with this green push so that the military won't be subject to global spikes in the price of oil. Obama's climate chief Heather Zichal defended the green fleet by arguing that even a $1 dollar rise in gas prices would cost DoD $30 million. Well, if every $1 dollar rise in gas prices costs $30 million, a $27 increase in fuels costs due to the forced use of biofuels would add up to about $660 million, so that argument falls completely flat.
Realizing that their economic angle is a political loser, they have tried to say that it's about national security and getting us off foreign oil. They continue to use their old chestnut argument that the United States only has 2 percent of the world's reserves, hoping that saying it enough times will make it true. But that argument completely fails in the face of a recently released United States Geological Survey (USGS) report revealing that America has 26 percent of the world's recoverable conventional oil resources and almost 30 percent of the world's technically recoverable conventional natural gas recourses. This USGS report strengthens what we already know from a recent Congressional Research Service report which revealed that America possesses the largest combined oil, natural gas, and coal resources on earth. If President Obama were serious about energy security and national security, he would open up these vast resources for development, ensuring that our military has access to reliable, affordable energy -- and he would immediately approve the Keystone pipeline so we could obtain more resources from our friend and neighbor Canada rather than the Middle East.
So if it's not about national security then what is it about? Secretary Panetta is the only one who has given us an honest answer -- he recently pledged that DoD will be pouring more than $1 billion into alternative fuel technologies in order to combat global warming. The supreme irony is that even if you buy into global warming alarmism, some of the most far-left environmentalists have taken issue with biofuels, worrying that they could actually harm the environment. As Wired magazine further pointed out, "Biofuels might be cleaner to burn. But those reduced emissions could come with a heavy cost: dirty water, eroded soil, pricier food."
It turns out that the great greening of the military is not-so-great for national security or the environment -- it is yet another massive failure, following down the path of the complete collapse of companies like Solyndra.
Instead of pushing forward with this disastrous agenda, the better way is to work with Congress where we have common ground. Everyone agrees that energy efficiency in the military is a worthy goal -- efficiencies in usage, infrastructure, equipment and alternative energy solutions that are affordable and make sense are worth pursuing. But biofuels still face challenges because the technologies remain unproven, and DoD should not have to serve as its testing ground.
The sailing of the Great Green Fleet is another wake-up call for Congress to stop President Obama from forcing his green energy agenda on DoD -- and we're are already well on our way. In May, Senator McCain and I introduced amendments to the Defense Authorization bill that would prevent President Obama from making DoD go green at a prohibitively expensive price tag, while he forces cuts to essential military programs. I was pleased that these amendments passed in committee with strong bipartisan support, and the House has passed similar legislation in a bipartisan fashion.
The Obama administration's aggressive push is too much too fast and it must be reined in. It's far more important to have a modern force of aircraft, ground vehicles and ships than an anemic one because funds are being directed to experimental technologies; our priority should be to have a strong, formidable fleet rather than a not-so-great Green Fleet.
Inhofe is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.