WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim Inhofe, an outspoken critic of the U.S. military's use of biofuels, asked the secretary of the U.S. Navy on Wednesday to detail the costs of a demonstration in the Pacific last week of a carrier strike group burning a mix of traditional and biofuels.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to list numerous costs associated with the exercise, down to the price of the green hats and T-shirts to mark the launching of what the Navy calls the Great Green Fleet.
“While I continue to support the development and use of all alternative fuels, I have grave concerns about the cost of ‘greening' our military and the overall impact on our readiness,” Inhofe wrote.
“It has been reported that the Navy spent $12 million for 450,000 gallons of biofuel, which equals approximately $27 a gallon. When added to an additional 450,000 gallons of traditional fuel, the cost per gallon is reduced to $15 a gallon, still over three times the cost of traditional fuel. Over the last three years we have seen the budget of the Navy drastically reduced, yet the Navy can spend $13.5 million on fuel that should have cost only $4.5 million.”
The Green Fleet demonstration came during the Rim of the Pacific exercise, an international event billed as the largest naval exercise in the world. The fleet included the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and dozens of aircraft, three warships and the ship that delivered the fuel.
On board the USS Nimitz, Maybus told sailors and reporters that the biofuel — a mixture of cooking grease and algae that was blended 50-50 with the traditional fuel — made no difference in the performance of the ships and aircraft.
“This is a great day for the U.S. Navy, but it's a great day for America, too,” the secretary said.
“It shows that we can make big strides toward energy security; it shows that we can make big strides toward energy independence; it shows that we can reduce the vulnerability that we currently have because of our dependence on foreign sources of oil.”
Inhofe cited a Defense Department report that estimated the Navy's biofuels initiative could cost an extra $1.8 billion a year, but Navy officials have said the money they're spending now is on research and development and that the service wouldn't purchase the fuels for regular use until the cost was competitive.
A statement from the Navy issued to The Oklahoman on Wednesday states the $1.8 billion figure “is a fabrication. It was taken from a report that did not use realistic data or take into account Navy's commitment regarding biofuel purchases for operations.”
“First, the projections in the report assume oil prices won't be higher in 2020, and that biofuel costs won't go down. History and experts tell us that oil prices are more likely to rise, and because of advances in technology and economies of scale the price of biofuel has already dropped.
“More to the point, the Navy has taken the well-known and much-publicized position that it will only purchase operational quantities of biofuel blends when they are competitive with petroleum, period. Future operational purchases of biofuel must be cost competitive with conventional fuels. We simply cannot afford to do it otherwise and will not do it.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee recently passed an amendment pushed by Inhofe and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to limit funding for alternative fuels, though research and development would still be allowed.