Just about everyone agrees the purpose of the United States Navy is to protect the "freedom of the seas," a time-honored tradition that effects not just America but just about every nation on earth. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, however, seems to have a different idea—which may be why he has been leading the charge on behalf of the Obama administration to show off the fleet's green potential.
Back in July the Navy held exercises off Hawaii focusing on what Mabus called the "great green fleet"—the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz, Carrier Air Wing 11, the guided missile cruiser U.S.S. Princeton, the guided missile destroyer U.S.S. Chafee, the Aegis destroyer Chung-Hoon, and the oiler Henry J. Kaiser—as a demonstration of what the Navy could do with alternative energy sources.
The military says it's necessary to find alternatives to traditional energy sources. Others, including Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, have branded it a public relations stunt, and an expensive one at that. The fuels used in the exercise were anywhere from two to four times as expensive as standard fuel, a not inconsiderable expense at the time the Defense Department faces defense cuts and a previously unthinkable sequester of funds that will seriously impact military preparedness and effectiveness.
The exercise, replete with T-shirts and ships painted green, looks an awful lot like a way to keep up the pressure for "green energy"—the U.S. military being the single biggest consumer of energy in the world—and, perhaps, as a way to keep some of the Obama administration's other so-called green energy investments from blowing up like Solyndra.
In July Inhofe wrote to Secretary Mabus asking for a detailed report on just what was going on and how much it cost.
"I respectfully request a detailed report that provides the total cost of this 'green' event," Inhofe said in his letter to Mabus.
He went on:
The report should include at a minimum: total fuel burned; type of fuel and cost to ship the fuel from Louisiana and Texas to Washington state by ground; total number of vehicles required to transport the 450,000 gallons of fuel from Louisiana and Texas to Washington; total fuel burned, type of fuel used, and cost to transport the biofuel from the port to Hawaii; cost to the Navy to paint logos on its aircraft and ships to promote the event; and cost to repaint the aircraft and ships after the event concluded; cost of the green hats and t-shirts to mark the event; and who provided the funding.
This is only part of a lengthy list of items making up the green fleet exercise.
Mabus responded, but was not as forthcoming as Inhofe had hoped. In a follow up letter sent August 2, the senator wrote, "With due respect, many questions were left unanswered which raises additional questions, and I hope you would be able to provide me with the answers." He's now asking the Navy for a more complete assessment of the so-called green fleet program, looking at the costs of everything from how much it cost to ship the biofuels used to Hawaii, which was part of the original request, as well as how much the Navy has been spent over the last 10 years on blended fuel research and development, whether the Navy is studying the potential corrosive effects of biofuels on storage facilities and ships, and for details on the involvement of the Defense Department in the design and construction of biorefineries, among other items.
These are all legitimate questions that Mabus and the Navy should answer. How much have they already spent to turn the big blue fleet "green" and how much do they plan on spending the future? Will U.S. ships and naval aircraft function as well on blended fuel alternatives and biofuels as they do on those from traditional petroleum-based sources? Will "going green" put sailors and pilots in greater danger than they already face? And is the Defense Department really proposing, as some of their documents seem to suggest, that they are going to raid funds set aside for Tricare, the military's medical insurance program, to pay for it?
It looks an awful lot like the "great green fleet" is just another government boondoggle designed to move some of the Pentagon's money into the same programs as the Energy Department's, without regard for the cost to the taxpayer, in an effort to keep the administration's so-called green agenda from crashing completely to the ground.
Experimenting with biofuels as an alternative makes sense in the broader picture but, at a time when money is in short supply, the technology remains unproven, and the demands on America's soldiers and sailors is high, now is not the time for conversion. And it is especially not the time for an expensive public relations stunt.