It's the GOP vs. the Navy -- on Clean Energy Use

In 2012, if you want to reduce your use of fossil fuels in favor of clean energy sources, expect to be taken to task by Republicans. Even if you're the United States Armed Forces.

Under most of the mainstream media radar, the U.S. military has emerged as one of the nation's biggest adopters of clean technologies including solar power, wind energy, green buildings, and biofuels. And why not -- who knows better the cost, in dollars and human lives, of our (to use George W. Bush's phrase) addiction to oil? The Pentagon is the world's largest single consumer of energy, spending about $15 billion a year and accounting for 70 percent of the entire U.S. government's energy bill. Even more to the point, one out of eight soldiers killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2007 were protecting fuel convoys, a telling statistic that has continued in Afghanistan as well.

So you would think that any effort to diversify the military's fuel sources away from petroleum, and help end our dependence on often-hostile foreign oil suppliers, would be cheered by politicians of all stripes. And you would be wrong.

At a Navy budget hearing in the House late last month, several GOP Congressmen took the opportunity to attack Navy Secretary Ray Mabus for his commitment to the development and deployment of biofuels. Along with the Air Force, the Navy has been a leading biofuels proponent, with an ambitious goal of all ships and aircraft being 50 percent biopowered by 2020. In November, a decommissioned Navy destroyer out of San Diego completed a successful test journey powered by a 50/50 blend of algae biofuel and conventional marine fuel -- 20,000 gallons worth.

Leading the charge against such initiatives was Virginia Republican Rep. Randy Forbes, who, according to press accounts, pounded his fist on the table and stormed at Mabus, "You're not the Secretary of Energy, you're Secretary of the Navy." GOP colleagues such as Mike Conaway of Texas piled on as well, questioning the wisdom of paying higher prices for biofuels. The Navy is obviously planning (and innovating) for the future, creating a viable market for suppliers like Solazyme and Dynamic Fuels, which will bring prices down. "I think we would be irresponsible if we did not reduce our dependence on foreign oil and if we did not reduce the price shocks that come with the global oil market," said Mabus. The Navy is doing what it takes when you have a multi-year plan to reduce fossil-fuel consumption and save lives -- long-term goals that go beyond the next election.

And that's what I think is really going on here. When it comes to the GOP stance against President Obama's clean energy policies, in the post-Solyndra world, not even the U.S. military is safe from political grandstanding. Republicans "are using clean energy as a proxy for the war on the administration," said Adam Browning, executive director of the excellent advocacy group Vote Solar, at a March 7 solar conference in Silicon Valley. "Their strategy seems to be that if clean energy is favored by this administration, we'll oppose it no matter what." In the mire of the 2012 election, even support for the U.S. military comes with political caveats.