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The Earmark That Wouldn’t Die

by Nan Swift / /

It’s baaaack!

Last year, taxpayer groups worked together to finally get rid of a decades-old earmark that forced the Pentagon to purchase and ship coal from Pennsylvania to the Kaiserslautern U.S. military base in Germany. H.R. 2685, the Department of Defense (DOD) Appropriations Act of 2016, included a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Representatives Huffman (D-CA) and McClintock (R-CA) stripping the provision and finally killing this “zombie earmark.”

That taxpayer victory may be short-lived. Like something out of a horror flick, the coal provision is back in the House FY17 DOD Appropriations legislation with a requirement that the energy-source for the Kaiserslautern base be domestically produced within the States. It’s not Pennsylvania-specific anymore, but the provision still limits the Pentagon’s options and requires shipping an energy-input across the Atlantic, despite the availability of potentially competitive fuel sources from Germany or Poland.

Due to a lack of transparency and information, it’s not immediately clear that purchasing coal from other suppliers could reduce costs for the Pentagon. Still, it’s worth investigating whether savings could be achieved by finding a more local source for coal or upgrading the heating system to accommodate another fuel, such as oil or natural gas (coal is the only fuel the boilers in Kaiserslautern can use, having been prevented by Congress from switching to more affordable oil since 1972).

The issue at hand is that the Pentagon, despite repeated attempts to pursue cost-savings and efficiency in this area has been repeatedly denied that opportunity in order to artificially prop up a favored industry. Unfortunately, this kind of legislative malpractice is all too typical when it comes to Pentagon spending, where protectionist rackets for equipment and other inputs abound, preventing taxpayers from reaping the potential savings that comes from open and fair competition.

Now taxpayer groups are banding together again to kill the “coal to Kaiserslautern” provision. Our friends at Taxpayers for Common Sense organized a coalition letter to House Appropriators, urging them to strip it from the Chairman’s mark. Huffman and McClintock likewise have expressed their indignation, writing:

The zombie earmark, which was first included in the defense spending bill in 1972, costs millions of dollars annually by requiring the Department of Defense to purchase anthracite coal from Pennsylvania to heat military bases at Kaiserslautern, Germany. Until the Huffman-McClintock effort last year to bury the nearly half-century old earmark, Congress had approved the congressional earmark every year since 1972.

Unfortunately, despite the Houses clear rejection of the policy in 2015, the Appropriations Committee has now resuscitated this earmark. While the new legislative language has the appearance of bolstering U.S. energy exports generally, its practical impact remains the same: spending taxpayer dollars to ship coal 3,000 miles to American bases in Germany.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee have an important opportunity to kill the coal program during their May 17 markup. If not, Huffman and McClintock will again offer an amendment striking the provision when the bill comes to the House floor. Let’s hope that legislators can put a stake through the heart of this kind of cronyism once and for all.