Congress should support the Department of Defense's movement toward advanced biofuels
A commentary by Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.
The U.S. Department of Defense is making great strides in declaring its independence from foreign oil, by aggressively pursuing advanced biofuels capable of powering ground vehicles, ships, and aircraft.
This is a common sense initiative that increases military readiness and national security, while providing new economic opportunities for U.S. businesses and farmers.
In a recent interview, United States (US) Navy Secretary Ray Mabus pointed out the absurdity of relying on oil-rich countries in the Middle East to power the U.S. military.
"We're moving away from fossil fuels for one reason, that it makes us better war fighters. We would never give these countries the opportunities to build our ships, our aircraft, our ground vehicles, but we give them a vote in whether those ships sail and whether those aircraft fly or those ground vehicles operate when we allow them to set the price and the supply of our energy. We've just got to move away from it," Mabus said.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have recently made moves to prevent the Department of Defense from purchasing advanced biofuels, in a misguided attempt to save the few extra cents per gallon that biofuels cost over petroleum-based fuels.
This strategy is penny-wise but pound-foolish.
Let's talk about the real costs of petroleum-based fuels. The U.S. spends $80 billion each year to defend shipping lanes in hostile waters, so we can protect our access to foreign oil.
Last year the U.S. imported 1.85 million barrels of oil per day from the Persian Gulf, sending $69.3 billion to countries like Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Then, of course, there is the cost in human lives of the servicemen and women who we put in harm's way to feed our addiction to Middle East oil.
For those of us from rural areas, this human cost hits close to home: rural America represents 17 percent of the population but makes up 44 percent of the military.
Luckily, as the Department of Defense is proving, there is an alternative, and it can actually bring jobs and new economic activity to rural areas.
The Navy and Air Force are integrating fuels from homegrown feedstocks such as wood waste and the camelina plant that compare favorably to their petroleum-based counterparts.
Jim Lane of Biofuels Digest reported on May 21 of this year that "New tests conducted at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have revealed that US warplanes are capable of flying faster and carry more payload on missions, when flying with synthetic fuels, including biofuels, compared to conventional military jet fuels made from petroleum."
The most promising way forward is for the Department of Defense to partner with private industry in developing these next generation high-tech fuels.
Indeed, just recently the Navy announced a $62 million public-private partnership to do just that - $62 million is a far cry from $80 billion, but it's a start.
Wisconsin biofuels companies would be in a great position to take advantage of DoD seed capital to fuel new research, create jobs, and provide new markets for agricultural products in the process.
The US military must be able to pursue the use of advanced biofuels for our nation's energy security. Advanced biofuels create a tremendous economic opportunity for rural America.
Legislation that restricts the military from purchasing advanced biofuels is not only short sighted, it's an irresponsible use of public policy.