Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, the nominee for Navy energy affairs, was grilled by Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee about the Navy’s attempts to deal with climate change and move from oil to renewable energy. So reports The Wall Street Journal.
Specifically, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) requested that the Navy consults Congress before undertaking alternative energy initiatives and commented that the $170 million the Navy is spending on alternative energy could be better spent on keeping civilian workers from being furloughed as a result of budget cuts.
In July, retired Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, a formal naval aviator, was nominated for the position of assistant secretary of energy, installations and the environment. McGinn was recently president and CEO of ACORE, the renewable energy advocacy group.
The Obama administration has tried to change the way the U.S. military uses energy, and the Navy, under Secretary Ray Mabus, has taken the lead among the armed forces. Mabus has installed more solar panels in Marine combat units, prepared aircraft and warships to use biofuels and promoted energy efficiency, the Journal reports.
But the increased use of renewable energy has become a contentious issue among leading Republicans like Sens. John McCain of Arizona and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who say it is too costly at a time of shrinking military budgets. This week, the House passed an amended defense appropriations bill that limits investment in biofuels.
Inhofe, the Armed Services Committee’s ranking Republican, is particularly interested in the Navy’s decision to buy $12 million of biofuels to run a carrier strike group during maneuvers off Hawaii last summer, according to the Journal. It was the trial run of the “Great Green Fleet,” which is expected to be operational in three years.
But McGinn’s GOP critics are expected to be pleased with some “green” steps the Navy has taken, such as replacing costly diesel generators with portable solar panels and developing better batteries for ground troops, both of which have shown to have saved lives and money in Afghanistan.
The Obama administration isn’t the first to try to reduce military energy costs, where the amount of fuel used per soldier has risen more than 20-fold since World War II. More than a decade ago, marine generals in Iraq called for increased use of renewable energy, according to the Journal. And rising oil costs have recently led the Navy to embrace biofuels made from camelina plants and algae.
But biofuels are still much more costly than traditional fuel. Moreover, they don’t make fleets faster speeds or carry other operational advantages, as was the argument when the Navy was trying to transition to coal, oil, or nuclear power. Capt. T.A. Kiefer, until last month a professor of strategy at the Air Force Air War College, said it requires as much energy to make biofuels as they provide. He called them ‘energy sinks,’ rather than ‘energy sources.’
McGinn says the Pentagon needs to think ahead, given that the cost and supply of natural resources like oil is unclear, the Journal reports.
In the meantime, the Republican head of the House Energy and Commerce committee told lawmakers this week that the U.S. biofuel system “cannot stand” in its current form, according to Reuters.
Fred Upton, a Republican congressman from Michigan and committee chairman, told a two-day gathering of players in the U.S. biofuel and oil industries that his committee would may consider changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires that increasing amounts of biofuels – mostly corn-derived ethanol – be put into gas and diesel fuel. His committee has published a series of papers on the RFS as part of a bipartisan review of a mandate, according to Reuters.
Interestingly, the mandate – specifically, the fuel targets — has divided lawmakers along regional lines and not party lines. Legislators from oil and gas producing states want to repeal the law while those from states that grow corn and grain want to keep it.
The Obama administration’s climate and energy adviser, Heather Zichal, said last week that any calls to repeal the mandate were shortsighted, Reuters reports.