* Oklahoma senator secured millions for biofuels 2002-2005
* Inhofe opposed Navy's "Green Fleet" project this year
* "Green Fleet" supplier benefited from Inhofe's earmarks
By Marcus Stern
WASHINGTON, Aug 6 A vociferous Republican critic
of the U.S. military's spending on expensive biofuels was
himself instrumental in securing federal funds to develop such
Senator Jim Inhofe, at the center of a Washington dispute
over the issue, pushed a provision in May barring the Pentagon
from buying alternative fuels if they cost more per gallon than
petroleum-based fuels. He has called the Obama administration
policy "completely skewed."
But between 2002 and 2005 Inhofe helped secure $10 million
in military funds to test such expensive fuels. More than half
of those earmarked funds, $5.95 million, went to a company in
his home state of Oklahoma.
His efforts benefited Tulsa-based Syntroleum, which has used
federal funds to test and develop renewable fuels. A 2006 Air
Force contract Syntroleum received because of an Inhofe earmark
-- as funds directed by Congress to specific projects are called
-- involved a payment of $2.3 million for 104,000 gallons of
fuel. That equals about $22 a gallon.
Inhofe has been a sharp critic of the Navy "Green Fleet"
demonstration project that was part of an Obama administration
effort to increase the Pentagon's use of alternative fuels. He
voiced outrage at the $26-a-gallon price tag for the Navy
But in criticizing the "Green Fleet" project, Inhofe, it
turns out, was opposing a program that benefited the very same
Oklahoma renewable fuels company to which he had steered
millions in funding. A Syntroleum joint venture was the fuel
supplier to "Green Fleet."
Proponents of military purchases of alternative fuels charge
him with inconsistency.
"It is completely contradictory and confusing that today
Senator Inhofe doesn't believe that petroleum substitutes help
America's security when he completely believed that a decade
ago," said Ben Lowe, a spokesman for Operation Free, which
supports military biofuels use.
Inhofe says he supports alternative fuel development but
views the "Green Fleet" demonstration last month as President
Obama pushing his "liberal green agenda."
OKLAHOMA FUELS COMPANY GOT CONTRACTS
Inhofe's biofuels earmarks in defense-spending bills came in
2002, 2004 and 2005. Those earmarks were converted into Pentagon
contracts worth $5.95 million for Syntroleum.
"Tulsans can be very proud that Syntroleum's advanced
technology is now poised to make a significantly increased
contribution to military readiness and national security,"
Inhofe said after Congress approved a $3.5 million Inhofe
earmark in 2002.
That congressional earmark led to a $2.5 million contract
for Syntroleum to explore the feasibility of deploying small
refineries at forward operating bases. The idea was to reduce
the need to deliver fuel in places like Afghanistan using
dangerous overland conveys, which are frequent targets of enemy
ambushes. The $2.5 million contract included delivery of 18
drums of fuel.
Inhofe said his support of the Syntroleum projects was
different from the $12 million the Obama administration spent on
fuel for the "Green Fleet" demonstration. The earlier funds came
from the research and development account while the recent money
came from the Navy's operations and maintenance account, he
"To be clear," Inhofe wrote in a letter dated Aug. 2 to Navy
Secretary Ray Mabus, "I fully support the development and use of
all sources of alternative fuels." But, he added, "At the same
time, I believe these pursuits within the military must be
sensible and affordable solutions. Using scarce Operations and
Maintenance (O&M) funds impacts readiness and jeopardizes the
lives of our service men and women."
The "Green Fleet" demonstration was part of the U.S. Pacific
Fleet's biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise off Hawaii.
Inhofe has been a leading congressional critic of the theory
of climate change, calling it a hoax. Since 1989, he has
received $1.4 million in campaign contributions from the oil and
gas industry, more than any other sector. His top corporate
contributor has been petrochemical giant Koch Industries at
$90,000. Koch Industries has given the Fund for a Conservative
Future, a political group affiliated with Inhofe, $51,000 since
2000, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.org.
Inhofe is unapologetic about his alternative fuels earmarks.
Most members of Congress have come to see earmarks as a
lightning rod for criticism, a source of pork-barrel spending
and some even as an invitation to corruption due to scandals in
recent years involving alleged ties between earmarks and
campaign contributions, which is reflected in a current
self-imposed moratorium on them.
INHOFE SUPPORTS EARMARKS
In response to questions from Reuters last week about
Inhofe's earmarking of alternative fuels, his spokesman, Jared
Young, explained the senator does not share other Republican
senators' opposition to earmarks.
He referred Reuters to a 2010 article Inhofe wrote for the
conservative magazine National Review, in which he defended
earmarks, writing, "Getting rid of earmarks does not save
taxpayers any money, reduces transparency, and gives more power
to the Obama administration."
Despite Inhofe's support for earmarking, the conservative
National Taxpayers Union gave him its 2011 Taxpayers' Friend
Award and an "A rating" for "his fiscally responsible voting
Syntroleum Senior Vice President Ronald Stinebaugh, speaking
for the company, declined to comment.
Syntroleum began working on alternative fuels in 1984 and
today is positioning itself as a leader in the market. Along the
way it relied on some of Washington's top lobbying firms,
including Patton Boggs.
But its go-to lobbyist has been former Representative J.C.
Watts, who has earned $1.5 million in fees from the company,
lobbying records show. The Oklahoma Republican was the
fourth-ranking Republican in the House before he retired in
In addition to its defense contracts flowing rom earmarks
sought by Inhofe and former Senator Don Nickles, Syntroleum has
received Energy Department grants worth millions of dollars.
But finding revenues other than government earmarks or
grants has been a challenge for Syntroleum. Last year, the
company had a total of $4.2 million in revenues against $4.8
million in expenses. It is unclear how much came from sources
other than the government. The company has 21 full-time
employees, according to its most recent annual report.
Syntroleum is involved in a joint venture with
Arkansas-based Tyson Foods to produce diesel fuel from animal
fats and vegetable oil. The venture, based in Louisiana and
named Dynamic Fuels, was awarded the $12 million contract to
provide the alternative fuels for the Navy's recent "Green
Fleet" demonstration. That purchase triggered Inhofe's ire.
Lowe, of Operation Free, chided Inhofe for criticizing the
"Green Fleet" project.
"It's Senator Inhofe's job to worry about national security
and the benefit of the people of Oklahoma," he said. "That's why
people elect him and why it's especially strange to see him
opposing what the military said is going to be good for national
security and a program that directly benefits Oklahoma."