Senate amendment would divert biofuels funds to operations, maintenance
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 14, 2013
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., submitted two amendments Thursday to the nation’s continuing budget resolution that would slash Pentagon alternative energy spending and funnel that money to operations and maintenance costs.
If successful, the amendments would restore funding to categories that saw immediate drops when the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration took effect March 1. However, the amendments would also represent a major blow to the military’s alternative energy program, one of the Navy’s highest long-term priorities.
The Navy wants half of its fleet’s fuel use to come from alternative sources by 2020.
One of Toomey’s amendments would cut $114 million from alternative energy research and development programs, according to political newspaper The Hill. The other would cut $60 million from the Defense Department’s biofuels program.
Pentagon alternative energy spending earned a last-minute reprieve in November, when the Senate voted 62-37 to remove restrictions on such spending imposed by the Armed Services Committee.
A few months earlier, a Republican-led push in committee had barred the military from spending on fuel sources that cost more than conventional sources like oil and natural gas.
At the time, the Navy had spent nearly $27 per gallon on biofuels for a demonstration, though officials argued that costs would come down as the market for biofuels increases.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and congressional advocates have argued that conventional fuels make the military vulnerable to oil market price shocks, which can force the Pentagon to take money from training and spend it on fuel. Lack of alternative sources also makes the military dependent on oil-rich nations that may not have U.S. interests at heart, advocates argue.
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., reiterated some of those arguments on the Senate floor Thursday in opposition to the Toomey amendments.
“Rising fuel costs result in less training, deferred maintenance and reduced operational capability,” Udall said. “That’s a terrible triad if there ever was one.”
Toomey’s amendments were spurred by news that the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania plans to lay off 418 civilian contractors in the coming weeks, according to a statement from his office.
“Given tightening budgets, it makes little sense to waste money on inefficient, overpriced energy sources when we could use those same funds to help support critical maintenance services for the warfighter,” the statement said.
Contractors and Defense Department civilians worldwide face layoffs and furloughs because of sequestration, a plan initially developed in 2011 to be so undesirable that it would force Democrats and Republicans to come up with a targeted plan to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. When Congress failed to pass a targeted plan by March 1, sequestration took effect.