Oil industry tries to prevent military biofuels programs

By Laurie Bennett

November 26, 2012 at 6:47am

Companies lobbying S. 3254, the defense appropriations bill in the Senate, include the usual list of top contractors.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and other defense firms spend millions of dollars on K Street each quarter.

Yet one of the top lobbyists in recent months has been the American Petroleum Institute.

As Roll Call points out, the Pentagon is the world’s biggest consumer of oil.

The energy sector, not only a major lobbying presence in Washington but a big donor to Republican candidates, is working overtime to block investment in military biofuels programs.

So far, the oil industry is having its way.

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and James Inhofe (R-OK) added provisions to the bill limiting funds for alternative fuels if they cost more than fossil fuels. The measures also ban contracts for biofuels refineries.

The provisions resemble a pledge being pushed by Americans for Prosperity. The group is funded by the Koch brothers, who own extensive oil and gas interests.

The so-called “No Climate Tax” pledge calls for members of Congress to “oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”

On Nov. 16, 38 senators sent a letter to Senate leaders, urging support for green energy in the military. The signers included 37 Democrats, along with Susan Collins (R-ME).

Despite Capitol Hill’s current obsession with spending and deficits, the Pentagon has other reasons for promoting alternative energy sources.

One is risk. Total dependence on traditional fuels means high vulnerability when supplies are cut off.

Another is price volatility. The American Security Project reports that every $1 increase in the per barrel price of oil costs the Defense Department an additional $31 million in unbudgeted funding.

Oil lobby spending increased during President Obama’s first term.

The industry backed the loser in the presidential election, contributing more than $4.7 million to Mitt Romney, compared to $705,000 to Obama.

In Congress, the oil and gas sector has contributed more than $26.2 million to Republican candidates, vs. $3.7 million to Democrats.

The American Petroleum Institute, which has spent more than $5 million lobbying this year, employs six outside lobby shops. One of its lobbyists is J. Bennett Johnston Jr., former Democratic senator from Louisiana.

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