With Senate's Support, Advanced Biofuel Industry Ready for Takeoff
When it comes to reducing the military's dependence on oil, senators from both sides of the aisle have the Department of Defense's back.
By striking down a pair of shortsighted amendments to the military's annual spending bill, the Senate this week gave a green light to the DoD to pursue the biofuel initiatives senior military leaders say they want and need.
But the votes are more than just a hopeful sign of bipartisanship and less dependence on oil by our military. They also indicate that the Senate sees the potential in biofuel to improve our national security, protect our environment and -- as a recent report from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) shows -- expand our economy.
According to the report from E2, an organization I co-founded, the military's biofuel initiatives will generate more than $10 billion in economic activity by 2020, helping create more than 14,000 new jobs in diverse sectors like agriculture, construction and transportation.
Unlike heavily subsidized fossil fuels, which rely on foreign countries and regimes hostile to the United States, the advanced biofuel industry features a domestic supply chain that has the potential to touch every corner of every state.
From farmers in California who grow sugar beets for feedstock, to workers at biorefineries in Illinois who turn used cooking oil into diesel, advanced biofuels put people to work producing clean energy that can power our military's ships, planes and vehicles.
Military demand alone will require the industry to produce at least 770 million gallons of advanced biofuels per year, the E2 report found, with the Navy and Air Force both planning to get 50 percent of their fuels from advanced biofuels by 2020.
The military wants these fuels because they know they work. The Navy, a big biofuel booster, powered an entire fleet of ships with biofuel during a recent demonstration in the Pacific Ocean. The Air Force, meanwhile, has successfully flown every major plane in its fleet on a biofuel blend.
The DoD also knows that being tethered to the global oil market is expensive. Every time the price of a barrel of oil ticks up $1, the military -- and taxpayers -- must fork over $130 million in funds that could otherwise support our troops.
But in order to meet the military's demand -- and spread the economic benefits of made-in-America energy across the country -- the biofuel industry needed a market signal to attract investment capital.
The two Senate votes send that signal.
Now, at the critical early stages of growth, military support will help the nascent biofuel industry develop new technologies and build out new facilities. This scales up production and brings down costs -- a role the DoD has played in industries like telecommunications and semiconductors.
As military support commercializes the industry, a new, much larger global market for these clean fuels could be commercial aviation, which -- like the military -- wants to reduce exposure to oil.
By trying to include anti-biofuel amendments in the National Defense Authorization Act, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Sen. John McCain of Arizona placed a bull's eye on the advanced biofuel industry. But they misfired.
Twice the majority of their colleagues in the Senate voted to stand with senior leaders in the Department of Defense, as well as the majority of Americans who strongly support alternatives to oil.
The senators whose votes protected the military's biofuel initiatives deserve our thanks. They took a big step toward clearing the biofuel industry for takeoff.
Nicole Lederer is co-founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national community of business leaders who promote sound environmental policy that builds economic prosperity.
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