The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted to remove language in the National Defense Authorization Act that would have limited the military’s use of biofuels by a vote of 62 to 37. The proposed restrictions, inserted by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), would have barred the military from using biofuels if they cost more than petroleum.

According to an independent business group “Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2),” the U.S. Air Force and Navy – two of the biggest users of oil in the world - want to get 50 percent of their fuel from biofuels by 2020. For the Navy alone this would represent about 8 million barrels a year. E2

A recent E2 report projects that meeting the Defense Department’s biofuel targets will directly generate between $9.6 and $19.8 billion of economic activity by 2020. Between 14,000 and 17,000 new jobs will be created by 2020. Of these jobs, 3,000 to 5,000 will be permanent rural agricultural jobs from biomass production, and about 1,200 will be in biorefinery operation.  An additional 10,000 jobs will be created from biorefinery construction.

Opponents in Congress believe the biofuels initiatives are too costly during times of tight government spending, including that for the military. According to a Reuters article, the Air Force paid $59 per gallon for an 11,000 test batch of alternative fuel this year, and the navy spent $12 billion for biofuels at a rate of $26 per gallon during its “Great Green Fleet” demonstration.

Livestock groups are skeptical of government mandates designed to increase demand for corn-based ethanol, but other agricultural organizations favor the military’s plans. National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson hailed the passage of the amendment, led by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), striking down the proposed restrictions.

“We are pleased with the passage of Sen. Udall’s amendment to the NDAA and effect it will have on ensuring the DOD can continue its work on advanced biofuels,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “The earlier proposed prohibitions that were in place in the NDAA would have been harmful to farmers, ranchers, the advanced biofuels industry and our national security. The DOD spends more than $11 billion each year on fossil fuels. Each time the price of a barrel of oil increases by $10, it costs DOD another $1.4 billion.”

The Senate likely will vote on the full NDAA soon, after which they will need to conference with the House of Representatives, which has passed its version of the bill.