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Published: Tuesday, 7/31/2012

Military biofuels

America's reliance on foreign oil has become so great that all forms of energy that can help this nation become more energy-independent -- including advanced biofuels -- need to be considered. Failure to do so could compromise national security.

It takes 22 gallons of fuel a day to support the average soldier in combat operations. For every $10 increase in a barrel of oil, the U.S. Department of Defense pays an additional $1.4 billion annually, according to the Washington-based Pew Project on National Security, Energy, and Climate.

With election politics in full swing, though, critics of the Obama Administration have taken potshots at fuels made from cooking grease, algae, plant fiber, and other organic material because of the current costs to produce them. In May, the Senate Armed Services Committee blocked military funding of fuels that cost more than conventional ones.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) was among those who voted to halt funding for military use of biofuels. He has not changed his position, despite a Navy exercise in the Pacific Ocean that demonstrated the viability of a 50/50 mix of biofuels and petroleum. Nor was he persuaded by Pew's release of a letter signed by more than 350 veterans, some retired generals and admirals, who urged Congress to support military initiatives for greater energy diversification.

Biofuels are not cheap. The mix used by the Navy for its demonstration was four times the cost of conventional fuels. But all reasonable efforts to enhance energy-diversification for the military -- the world's largest consumer of liquid fuels -- should remain on the table as a matter of national security.

Mr. Portman is right to be sensitive about the federal deficit and pressures on the defense budget. But he needs to leave politics out of the decision-making.

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