Administration Aides Defend Military Biofuels

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and top White House energy aide Heather Zichal on Thursday shot back at congressional critics of the military's biofuel spending.

Republicans led by Sens. John McCain of Arizona and James Inhofe of Oklahoma have been pushing to strip funding for biofuel spending from the defense authorization bill, which is expected to come to the Senate floor next week, but Zichal on Thursday called these efforts "short-sighted" and "disappointing."

Zichal and Mabus spoke on a conference call on Thursday with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack following the first demonstration of the Navy's biofuel-powered "Great Green Fleet" as part of the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the largest international maritime exercise in the world that took place off the coast of Hawaii.

"This shows that it's operational. Everything before now has been a test," Mabus said on Thursday. "We can use biofuels and other alternative energy in an operational manner."

Mabus, who has led the Pentagon's energy-reform efforts, defended the biofuels push against its critics, arguing that it is necessary for the military to wean itself off of oil and for the U.S. to stay competitive.

"If we don't remain on the cutting edge, all sorts of other people are," he said. "We don't want American industry to fall behind."

But if opponents have their way, the green fleet may not have much of a future.

House lawmakers in May passed a provision in their defense authorization bill to prevent the military from purchasing alternative fuels that exceed the cost of "traditional fossil fuel" and the Senate's version of the bill, which passed out the Senate Armed Services Committee later that month, had a similar provision along with an amendment that would block the Defense Department from funding biofuel refineries.

Still, when the bill reaches the Senate floor, supporters such as Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., plan to fight back against these provisions.

"Without changes to the new National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate Armed Services Committee just passed, the Defense Department's ability to buy domestic biofuels will be curtailed significantly," Collins and Shaheen wrote in a Politico op-ed earlier this week. "We hope to correct that short-sighted mistake when the bill reaches the Senate floor."