Energy Security, the Home Front: In New Biofuels Initiative, Navy Teams With Departments of Energy and Agriculture

by Rebecca Lefton

Today the Obama administration announced a joint initiative with the Department of Agriculture, Energy, and the Navy to increase the use of jet and marine advanced biofuels.  The plan is part of a broader goal to reduce dependence on foreign oil and improve energy security as laid out in a March Presidential directive, A Blueprint for A Secure Energy Future, which prioritized reducing oil imports one-third by 2025.  Increasing the use of biofuels is a key part of reaching that goal.

Making the announcement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the initiative will invest up to $510 million over three years split equally among the three departments to power military and ultimately commercial transportation with homegrown energy.

US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said that every one dollar price of oil increase costs over $30 million in additional fuel costs.  In addition to supply shocks and high costs, Mabus said that the military sees fuel as a matter of national security.  Mabus pointed to the Defense Production Act of 1950 which states that if industries are not existent in the US but are vital to national security, then the government can help them to get off the ground.  The Secretary said he could think of nothing more vital than diversifying our energy.

Instead of sending roughly $1 billion a day on foreign oil, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that with this initiative we are investing in America’s famers and innovation.  Building an advanced biofuels industry will reduce our oil dependence, create jobs for American farmers, and ensure the US leads the way in advanced biofuels production.  Chu added that the goal is to jumpstart commercial production and make biofuels cost-competitive.  The plan will address the lack of manufacturing capacity for next-generation drop-in biofuels and create a competitive national biofuels industry.

The government will soon make a request for proposals inviting competitive bids from partners in the private sector.  There should be great interest from the airline and shipping industries not only from an economic standpoint, but because soon aircraft landing in the European Union will be required to limit global warming pollution and ships may be next.  Yet, though US airlines tout their dedication towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they are suing to avoid complying with the EU law that would require aircraft flying into the EU to purchase pollution allowances beginning January 1. The US administration has stated its opposition to the EU policy.  While the administration’s steps to reduce fossil fuel use in aviation and shipping are encouraging, the US should take further steps and cooperate with the EU if it is serious about strengthening our energy independence and reducing reliance on imported crude oil.

— Rebecca Lefton is a Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress

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