- - Friday, July 27, 2012

If America had a Spend Like a Drunken Sailor Award, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus would win hands-down for blowing $12 million on biofuel for Navy ships.

Even as the armed services face drastic budget cuts under automatic sequestration and other proposals undermining our national security, Mr. Mabus and President Obama clearly believe “it’s only taxpayer money.”

In fairness, Mr. Mabus‘ Great Green Fleet of ships and fighter jets performed well during recent military exercises off Hawaii, burning blends of 50 percent biofuels and 50 percent conventional fuels. But the price tag makes the fleet a poster child for wasteful government spending.

The exercises cost the Navy nearly $27 per gallon for 450,000 gallons of biofuels produced from algae, waste grease and animal fat — versus around $3.50 for standard petroleum fuels.

The only way the Navy looks good in this fiasco is in comparison to the Air Force, which spent $59 a gallon for alcohol-based jet fuel and $67 per gallon for camelina-based F-22 Raptor fuel. The Navy, however, also purchased of 20,000 gallons of renewable diesel fuel in 2009 for $424 a gallon.

If Mr. Mabus achieves his goal and persuades the Navy to make half of its fuel “green” by 2020, the higher-cost biofuels could add $1.9 billion annually to Navy’s fuel bill, according to a Defense Department study. That extra outlay would pay for a new DDG-51 destroyer and comes as the Defense Department budget faces $13 billion in cuts for Navy shipbuilding over the next four years.

Add to that boatloads of additional taxpayer dollars that would be wasted if the Army, Air Force and Marines also switch from abundant, affordable, reliable, proven petroleum fuels to unaffordable and unsustainable biofuels. The Pentagon’s green-spending spree makes the General Services Administration binge on lavish travel, conferences and entertainment look like chump change. Maybe the Navy ought to replace its “Beat Army” football battle cry with “Beat GSA.”

Worse, on top of paying these enormous sums for biofuels, the Navy and Departments of Agriculture and Energy agreed last summer that each would “invest $170 million directly in biorefineries to kick-start the flagging industry,” Wired magazine reported. The $510 million total equals the Solyndra solar-panel loan guarantee debacle.

What’s next in the drive to end Defense Department fossil fuel use? Using fuel efficiency to justify “slimming down” armor and armament for personnel vehicles, tanks, fighter jets, aircraft carriers and missile cruisers? Or shrinking the U.S. military to the size and capability of its French, German or Greek counterparts?

The Navy biofuels program doesn’t turn 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop into ethanol. However, the entire United States does not have enough chicken fat and waste grease to fuel the Navy — and collecting and refining it would be a budget-busting logistical nightmare. Moreover, camelina and other nonfood crops still require vast amounts of land, water, energy, fertilizer and pesticides.

Growing sufficient quantities of algae to meet the Mabus-Obama green-fuel pipe dreams would require enormous onshore and offshore algae ponds, sending environmentalists storming into courthouses.

Protecting the military from oil price spikes is equally specious. If every $1 in higher oil prices costs the military $30 million, as White House climate czar Heather Zichal claims, a $23- to $63-per-gallon price differential between conventional and biofuel will cost it $690 million to $1.9 billion.

As for enhancing supply lines and national security, does Mr. Mabus intend to build enough biofuel refineries to equal the conventional refineries and fleet-servicing ports worldwide that safeguard supplies? Or to commission specialized ships that strain algae from seawater like baleen whales, convert it to fuel onboard and store it in tankers?

Even ignoring the absence of empirical evidence that carbon dioxide is driving catastrophic global warming, it beggars belief that the White House, Congress or the Defense Department would even consider compromising military preparedness, missions and safety to promote climate-change ideology. Moreover, any net carbon-dioxide reductions resulting from the use of biofuels would be more than offset by increases from China, India and other rapidly developing countries.

Fortunately, many in Congress understand that “adopting a ‘green agenda’ for national defense is a terrible misplacement of priorities,” as Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and former Navy pilot, aptly put it. House-passed legislation would bar the Defense Department from buying biofuels that cost more than conventional fuels, and Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, has proposed similar action in the Senate.

His amendment to the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, but faces mostly Democrat opposition in the full chamber. The usual alliance of hydrocarbon adversaries always can be counted on to oppose the use of America’s abundant but untapped and off-limits petroleum resources.

Mr. Obama and this alliance prefer to wage war on fossil fuels instead of ensuring that our armed forces can defend America without wasting billions of dollars. Instead of promoting biofuels, the Navy and Defense Department should be calling on Congress and the White House to increase domestic leasing and drilling.

Even a drunken sailor would understand this.

Paul Driessen is senior policy adviser for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and author of “Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death” (Merril Press, 2010).