Muckraker: Grist on PoliticsThe House passed ($ub. req’d) the defense authorization bill for 2009 last night, and there were several climate and energy-related components included.

One amendment modifies part of last year’s energy bill that forbids federal agencies from purchasing alternative or synthetic fuels that have higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional petroleum. Amendment sponsor Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and other critics of the provision cited fears that it could interfere with the military’s ability to obtain alternative fuels that help displace foreign oil.

The original purpose of the provision, authored by Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), was to make sure that federal funds aren’t spent on fuels that warm the planet. It’s meant to preempt the use of domestic coal-to-liquids fuels, should they become available. We aren’t producing them yet, but the military and coal industry hope we can start doing so soon, and has launched a massive push to do so. But without carbon capture and storage technology in place — which is still at least ten years out [PDF] — coal-to-liquids would emit twice as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as petroleum fuels. And even with CCS, coal-to-liquids fuels still have a higher net contribution to greenhouse gases than petroleum.

On a more positive note, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) slipped in an amendment that will requires the Department of Defense to take into account greenhouse gas emissions when it plans new projects. “When it comes to reducing U.S. global-warming pollution, the Defense Department is the 800-pound gorilla because it’s our nation’s number one energy consumer,” Inslee said in a written statement.

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The bill itself [PDF] also contains a provision to create a “director of operational energy plans and programs” in the Pentagon, who would appoint senior energy officials in each branch of the military in an effort to reduce overall energy consumption. In addition to reducing the military’s contribution to global warming, it’s a money-saving move — the Department of Defense spent $9.5 billion on fuel last year.