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WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday gave the green light to the Pentagon's investment in green energy.
By a vote of 62-37 on Wednesday, the Senate backed an amendment that would delete a provision in the defense bill prohibiting the military from spending money on alternative fuels if the cost exceeded traditional fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil. The Pentagon has opposed the provision that a sharply divided Senate Armed Services Committee added in May.
The Navy and Air Force have pushed to use more biofuels to operate its aircraft and ships, with military leaders suggesting a greater reliance on alternative sources in the next decade to ease dependence on foreign oil.
"It should tell us something that in an era of reduced Defense Department budgets, our senior leaders remain fully committed to this effort. We should support them in these commonsense approaches," said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., sponsor of the amendment.
The strong bipartisan vote reflected the growing business of alternative fuels in states such as Iowa and Kansas as well as the Dakotas as 11 Republicans joined 49 Democrats in backing the measure. Two Democrats from coal-producing states — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jim Webb of Virginia — voted against the amendment.
The Senate finally began work Wednesday on the far-reaching, $631 billion defense policy bill for next year — six months after the Armed Services Committee acted on the legislation and the House passed its version. The bill authorizes money for weapons, ships, aircraft and a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel.
The total is $4 billion less than the House-passed bill, and House-Senate negotiators will have to work out the difference in the closing days of the year.
During the debate, Udall pointed out that the Defense Department consumes approximately 330,000 barrels of oil a day and this year, the military has already spent $15 billion on fuel. Based on increased oil prices, the amount is $2.5 billion more than the department had planned and another month remains.
To deal with the rising costs and reliance on foreign oil, the department is exploring alternative fuels.
The Pentagon is pushing for $1.4 billion in next year's budget for investments in clean energy, including hybrid electric drives for ships, more efficient engines, better generators and solar power.
"As one of the largest landowners and energy consumers in the world, our drive is to be more efficient and environmentally sustainable," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a speech in May to the Environmental Defense Fund. "We have to be able to have the potential to transform the nation's approach to the challenges we are facing in the environment and energy security. We've got to look ahead to try to see how we can best achieve that."
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma have pushed to limit Pentagon investments in clean energy, arguing that in a time of defense budget cuts the Pentagon can't afford spending money on green energy projects.
Inhofe has gone further, saying earlier this year that Panetta has a "real war to win, and he should not be wasting time perpetrating President Obama's global warming fantasies or his ongoing war on affordable energy."
The Senate bill extends, for one year, the divisive provisions on the handling of suspected terrorists that snagged the legislation last year. The legislation would deny terror suspects, including U.S. citizens seized within the nation's borders, the right to trial and subject them to indefinite detention. It also would require military custody for foreign terrorist suspects linked to al-Qaida or its affiliates and involved in plotting against or attacking the United States.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., with the support of conservative Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced an amendment to the bill that stipulates the government cannot detain a U.S. citizen or legal resident indefinitely without charge or trial even in with the authorization to use military force or declaration of war.
"If we give up our rights, have we not let the terrorists win?" Paul said in arguing for the amendment, which may be voted on later this week.