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Slick idea? Bush proposes turning closed bases into refineries
Scripps Howard News Service


April 28, 2005

Washington - President Bush's proposal to turn shuttered military installations into new oil refineries caught military communities by surprise Wednesday, and analysts wondered how he would address environmental and closure laws that could block his plan.

In a speech to members of the Small Business Administration, Bush said he plans to "direct federal agencies to encourage the building of refineries on closed military bases" and to "simplify the permitting process for such construction."

"Our (energy) supply is not growing fast enough to meet the demands of our growing economy," he said.

The proposal is part of a broader energy plan that also includes new nuclear power plant construction, drilling in Alaska and simplifying regulations on oil refineries.

Bush did not name specific bases he considered candidates, nor did he say how current rules - which give federal agencies and local municipalities priority in reclaiming closed properties - would be amended to allow for turning a property over to a refiner.

In about two weeks, the Pentagon will release a list of bases it intends to close to save money. Military communities have been preparing for the 2005 list for several years now. The Pentagon has said it saved $17 billion by closing 97 bases in the four previous rounds in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995.

But turning property over for a new refinery would not be an option for most bases because they aren't on a coast or near current refining industries, analysts said.

However, there are bases like Naval Station Ingleside, a small facility on the Texas coastline nestled among 30 percent of the nation's oil refineries. Loyd Neal, chairman of a task force trying to save Ingleside, was surprised by the proposal Wednesday. But he said that without several changes in the law, he wasn't sure how it could be implemented.

"Congress would have to look at special legislation," he said, noting that current laws give precedence to a long list of potential new occupants, including the homeless, before a refinery's bid would be accepted.

And that's even if communities like Ingleside would want a new refinery in their backyard.

Analyst Chris Hellman of the Center for Arms Control in Washington said that should a community lose a base, it may not welcome a refinery.

"It's one thing for a community to host a military base. It's another to have an oil refinery," Hellman said.

Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said that stricter environmental laws, including tougher air-quality standards, make new refineries very expensive to build. He questioned who would shoulder the expenses of a new refinery.

Arizona Clean Fuels Yuma, LLC, is in the permitting process to build the first refinery in the United States since 1976 - at a cost of $2.5 billion.


E-mail Tara Copp at CoppT(at)

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