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Inhofe: Don’t Waste Precious Defense Funds on Biofuels

Our military has deployed to more locations around the world at a far greater rate than was ever the case during the Cold War. After almost two decades of fighting multiple contingencies worldwide with a force structure that is 40 percent smaller and equipment that is decades old, our military readiness is declining.

Our troops on the front lines are being forced to use equipment well past its service life. We have terminated more than 50 modernization programs in the past two years and drastically scaled back and slowed down the production of ships, ground vehicles and aircraft, increasing overall costs. Our equipment reset costs after years of fighting will be in the billions.

All of this is coming at a time when the Obama administration has cut the defense budget by $487 billion and will potentially cut another $500 billion because of the sequester, devastating our military readiness and national security. Despite decreasing military funds, the administration continues to force the military to spend more on an expensive alternative energy agenda, including the purchase of biofuels for operational use and the construction of commercial biofuel refineries.

While I fully support the development and use of all alternative fuels, the priority for our defense spending must be maintaining readiness.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ primary focus must be on the readiness of our Navy — not taking funds needed for operations and maintenance or defense modernization to prop up the unproven biofuel industry.

Our Navy has had readiness problems over the past few years, with more than one-fifth of its ships falling short of combat readiness and fewer than half of its deployed combat aircraft being mission ready at any given time.

According to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, there will be a 15 percent increase in the number of ships and subs deployed, with the number of ships and attack boats deployed at any time rising from 93 today to 107 by late 2016. Increased deployment rates affect sailors and Marines as well as maintenance.

The Navy’s increased operations tempo coincides with planned decreases in the number of aircraft carriers and submarines as the Navy falls far short of its 313-ship target. The end result will be gaps in our forward presence and a decrease in mission readiness of the fleet.

When every defense cut degrades our military’s readiness, why would we want our Navy to pay four to five times more than necessary for fuel? With a military budget that continues to decrease, where is the Navy going to get the funds to pay for biofuels? What is the Navy willing to give up for biofuels?

Energy efficiency in the military is a worthy goal that I support. The Pentagon is pursuing some alternative energy solutions that are affordable and make sense, but biofuels still face significant challenges.

A 2011 RAND Corp. study concluded, “There is no direct benefit to the Department of Defense or the services from using alternative fuels rather than petroleum-derived fuels. … In short, the military is best served by efforts directed at using energy more efficiently in weapon systems and at military installations.”

There are growing concerns about the production and use of biofuels: impact on land use, energy and emissions from growing, harvesting, processing and burning biofuels; rise in food prices; lower power densities; reduced energy efficiency and effectiveness; reduced combat range; corrosion; and damage to engines, fuel tanks and supply lines. The bottom line is we are only beginning to understand the use of biofuels. They have not, as some have stated, arrived.

Despite erroneous assertions by biofuels lobbyists, the two provisions in this year’s defense authorization bill do not restrict the Pentagon from purchasing alternative fuels. Section 313 allows the continued use of Defense funds to test biofuels but precludes the use of funds authorized for readiness and training to be used to pay excessive costs for fuel. Section 2823 simply requires the Pentagon to have a specific authorization from Congress before using $170 million in Defense funds to construct a biofuels refinery.

In reality, these provisions are intended to focus the Pentagon’s extensive development, research and testing of new energy technologies on two defense priorities: reducing fuel consumption by our weapons systems and introducing new energy-efficient equipment on the battlefield that will save lives. Both are areas strongly supported in the bill, with more than $1 billion authorized for energy-related initiatives.

With limited funds, the military must focus on readiness and modernization that is paramount to defending this nation. Creating a product that is a viable and attractive alternative for consumers and mass-producing that product is best left to the private sector. Wasting taxpayer dollars to advance the green agenda is not our military’s mission.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.

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