The U.S. military recognizes that dependence on fossil fuels is a threat to U.S. strategic influence and its own operational effectiveness. With that in mind, it’s trying to make itself lighter and leaner, reducing energy consumption at bases and on the battlefield while working to develop fuel alternatives for its ship and plane fleets. Republicans have been quietly grumbling about this for a while; now they are openly opposing it. The GOP wastes no opportunity to boast of “supporting the troops,” but that support apparently ends where Big Oil contributions begin.
Let’s look at a few examples, shall we?
GOP tries to block use of cleaner fuels
Last week, the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee proposed a new Pentagon budget. Tucked away inside it was a provision that would prohibit the Department of Defense from buying any alternative fuels that cost more than conventional fossil fuels. TPM has the story.
Slate’s Fred Kaplan laments that this provision would kill the $12 million “Green Strike Group” program the Navy is running, which would field a strike group running entirely on biofuels (and a nuclear-powered carrier) for a naval exercise in June. The Navy hopes to have an entire “Great Green Fleet” in the water by 2016.
But the language is far broader than that. It would effectively prohibit military field-testing of any non-fossil fuel. After all, if alternatives were already cheaper than fossil fuels, they wouldn’t be alternatives. The Air Force couldn’t experiment with fuel blends for its jets. The Army couldn’t fuel its “Green Warrior Convoy.” This provision would explicitly ban the military from being an instrument of energy innovation.
GOP tries to push use of dirtier fuel
But wait! There is one expensive alternative fuel that congressional Republicans support. You see, Section 526 of 2007’s Energy Independence and Security Act prohibits the military from buying fuel that is more carbon-intensive than crude oil. Earlier this month, Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) offered an amendment to an appropriations bill, later passed by the House, that would bar the military from enforcing Sec. 526.
Why, you ask? “Placing limits on federal agencies’ fuel choices,” says Flores, “is an unacceptable precedent to set in regard to America’s energy policy and independence.”
Yes, I’ll let that irony sink in a moment.
Why are Republicans so keen to get rid of Sec. 526? Are there dirtier-but-cheaper fuels the military could be using?
Well, no. Instead, Republicans have seized on the idea of using the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert coal to liquid fuel (a technology made famous by Hitler — don’t tell the Heartland Institute). Building a plant to do this requires enormous capital investment, running one requires enormous operational and maintenance investments, and the result is … fuel more expensive than oil. This is to say nothing of the fact that it requires mining and transporting coal on the front end and releases up to 2.5 times as much CO2 as oil when burned.
So, let’s pause and review. The Republican position on military fuel choices is as follows: Congressional restrictions are an “unacceptable precedent” when they prohibit dirtier fuels, but necessary when they prohibit cleaner fuels. Also, it is unacceptable for the military to pay more for cleaner fuels, but necessary for it to pay more for dirtier fuel.
If you were cynical, you’d almost think that the issue had nothing to do with Congress’s relationship with the military, or with costs. You’d almost think Republicans just support fossil fuels and oppose clean energy, no matter the context.