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Mean and Clean: Mission Readiness Through Energy Diversity | Commentary

For the price of a single F-22 fighter jet, Congress could do more to strengthen national security and our economy than an entire combat squadron. When invested in military-led biofuel development, that cost could secure a safe, renewable domestic fuel supply and spur job growth in communities across the country.

This month, the House Armed Services Committee approved legislation that would limit our military’s ability to invest in these advanced biofuels. This effectively leaves our military vulnerable to the costly and unpredictable world oil market and stunts the growth of a promising domestic energy industry and good-paying American jobs.

In our districts in Hawaii and California, we have seen firsthand the economic opportunities that the biofuels industry provides.

In Hawaii, for example, a company called Pacific Biodiesel provides full-time employment, benefits and retirement plans for 50 permanent employees. The company has created quality jobs for Hawaii construction and farm workers, truck drivers, and other administrative and technical experts. These jobs are supporting American families at a critical point in our nation’s fragile economic recovery.

In San Diego, biofuels companies are significant contributors to our area’s innovation economy. Numerous companies are working with both public and private entities on ways to develop technologies such as algae biodiesel that can be a meaningful component of our country’s energy diversification process.

The biofuel production industry naturally has an advantage over other green energy efforts, like solar and wind, because biofuel employs existing infrastructure. These fuels are derived from advanced feedstocks, like animal fat, algae or solid waste, and they can be used in current military vehicles, ships and aircraft because they’re chemically identical to petroleum fuels. No investment in new engines or parts is necessary!

The Department of Defense is also no stranger to innovation. From microchips, to GPS, to the Internet, the military has repeatedly led the development of new technology that not only improves military operations but also has improved our daily lives.

From a national security perspective, our military leaders and security experts agree that dependence on a single source of fuel remains a significant threat to our Armed Forces. The military relies heavily on petroleum-based fuels to conduct its domestic and foreign operations, requiring a vast and vulnerable supply chain.

As the largest institutional consumer of fuel in the world, the U.S. military is extremely vulnerable to price volatility in the global oil market. The DOD spends $20 billion on energy each year, the majority of which is on fuel. For every $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil, the DOD is left with a $1.3 billion shortfall.

These costs cannot be budgeted for because no one, not even the military, can predict the future price of oil; it is a globally traded commodity; the price is set by global supply and demand. This leaves our military exposed to price shocks caused by events that are outside our control.

Oil price fluctuations jeopardize the military’s ability to train and carry out basic missions and operations. To pay for unexpected fuel costs, funds are taken away from critical training, maintenance and other mission-readiness programs to cover the cost of overseas operations. That means our pilots fly less, our sailors steam less and our soldiers and Marines train less.

Unfortunately, too many have failed to recognize the importance of these investments, and their attempts to restrict the DOD’s advanced biofuels program undermine our national security and threaten to increase America’s risky dependence on foreign oil.

Recent attacks on the advanced biofuels program ignore the strong arguments made by our military leaders. Efforts to change current policy would interfere with the DOD’s aggressive efforts to develop a secure energy strategy.

We stand with our military leaders who have strongly supported investment in advanced biofuels to diversify our fuel supply and strengthen national security. Soon, the Senate will have the opportunity to take the lead by adopting its own version of the National Defense Authorization Act that will allow our military to continue its progress in developing advanced alternative fuels.

We call on our friends in the Senate to stand with our military leaders and take action to protect these advanced biofuels investments that strengthen national and economic security.

Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., represents the state’s 52nd District. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, represents the state’s 2nd District.