U.S. groups oppose plans to use the biofueled vessels to sink three obsolete U.S. warships off Hawaii during the RIMPAC war games later this month. They say toxics aboard the target ships will contaminate the sea and the old vessels should be recycled instead.
Senator John McCain is targeting the $26 a gallon cost of the petrol-biofuel blend made of waste cooking oil and algae oil.
But Navy Secretary Ray Mabus says the fuel is vital for military energy security.
Twenty-two nations, 42 ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel will participate in the biennial Rim of the Pacific, RIMPAC, exercise in and around the Hawaiian Islands. The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC started June 29 and will continue through August 3.
RIMPAC 2012 will feature the first demonstration of the Great Green Fleet, during which U.S. surface combatants and carrier-based aircraft will test, evaluate and demonstrate the cross-platform utility and functionality of biofuels. The Navy says this demonstration will incorporate prototype energy efficiency initiatives such as solid state lighting, on-line gas turbine waterwash and energy management tools.
The Russian Navy destroyer RFS Admiral Panteleyev arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to participate in RIMPAC 2012, June 29, 2012. (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)
But environmental groups have petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and gone to court in an attempt to halt the deliberate sinking of these vessels as part of the target practice ship disposal exercise known as SINKEX, for sinking exercise.
This year's SINKEX will be the first since the Chief of Naval Operations placed a moratorium on SINKEX last year, and the first since Sierra Club and the Basel Action Network, represented by Earthjustice, filed a formal complaint against the EPA for continuing to allow the ocean dumping of toxins during SINKEX exercises.
In April, the Center for Biological Diversity joined the other two groups in petitioning the EPA to rescind an exemption from environmental laws it has granted the Navy for the SINKEX program.
The groups warn that SINKEX operations violate U.S. ocean dumping regulations, including the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act; and the Toxic Substances Control Act; as well as several international treaties such as the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972, known as the London Convention; the Stockholm Convention on Persistant Organic Pollutants; the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal; and a variety of OECD agreements.
The target ships are contaminated with toxic heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, the groups contend, based on documentation of known contaminants found in more than 100 ships previously sunk by the Navy over the past 12 years.
The groups say sinking, instead of recycling, these ships will send toxic chemicals into the marine environment and deprive the U.S. ship recycling industry of both resources and hundreds of U.S. ship recycling jobs.
Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Warramunga fires a Harpoon missile off the coast of Hawaii in a SINKEX exercise during RIMPAC, July 10, 2010. (Photo courtesy (Australian Defense Forces)
The vessels Kilauea, Niagara Falls and Concord are slated for sinking at RIMPAC, while a fourth vessel, the Coronado is scheduled for sinking as part of a SINKEX operation in the Pacific later this year.
Together, the sinking of these four vessels would waste resources by sending some 38,000 tons of recyclable steel, aluminum, copper and lead to the ocean floor, valued at an estimated $27.6 million in today's scrap market. Lost too with the sinking of these vessels would be hundreds of U.S. ship recycling jobs.
"The hypocrisy of the Navy's new ecological 'Great Green Fleet' demonstrating its "greenness" by sinking ships containing globally banned pollutants off the coast of Hawaii is particularly ironic," said Colby Self of BAN's Green Ship Recycling Campaign.
"But the realization that this choice by the Navy to dump poisons into the marine environment is not only unnecessary, but also is costing Americans hundreds of green recycling jobs, makes this SINKEX program both an environmental and an economic insult," said Self.
Senator McCain opposes the Great Green Fleet's actions for different reasons.
Commenting on the National Defense Authorization Act that passed in the Senate Armed Services Committee at the end of May, Ranking Member McCain explained why the committee imposed restrictions on Defense Department expenditures to develop a commercial biofuels industry.
"There are many areas of research that are wholly appropriate to the Department of Defense mission, such as efforts to extend the life and reduce the weight of batteries, adapt solar technologies to battlefield conditions, and reduce fuel consumption through more efficient engines and weapon systems," said McCain. "But defense funds should not be used to invigorate a commercial industry that cannot provide an affordable product without heavy government subsidies."
"This is not a core defense need and should be left to the Department of Energy, which received over $4 billion last year for energy research and development and related programs, or to the private sector to take the lead," he said. "In a tough budget climate for the Defense Department, we need every dollar to protect our troops on the battlefield with energy technologies that reduce fuel demand and save lives. Spending $26 per gallon of biofuel is not consistent with that goal."
This year's RIMPAC exercise includes units or personnel from Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Tonga, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.