The National Defense Authorization Act, passed more than a week ago by the Senate, gives thumbs down to a requested BRAC, provides a pay raise for military personnel, authorizes a biofuels initiative, and includes $45 million for projects at Cherry Point.
The Senate version of the bill, which must now be reconciled with a version in the U.S. House, passed Dec. 5 on a 98-0 vote. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., said in an interview that the bill keeps the biofuels amendment she initiated and fought hard to include.
“I’m pleased with the final bill,” Hagan said.
In includes a 1.7-percent pay raise for active-duty, reserve and National Guard service members.
The biofuels initiative she pushed is not in the House version of the bill, but Hagan said she is hopeful that the $170 million in research fund can help the Navy continue to work on projects she said could save much more money over time.
“Investing in our nation’s biofuels industry will also help create new markets for North Carolina’s farmers and high-tech industries,” Hagan said.
The Defense Department is the largest single consumer of oil, she said, at about 120 million barrels a year, which last year cost $17 billion. Biofuels are more expensive now, but the volatility in the price of oil and that the Defense Department is on a fixed budget, leaves military readiness at risk, said Hagan, who leads the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee.
Hagan pushed to continue that biofuels public-private research partnership and shepherded a bipartisan compromise to remove two provisions from last year’s Defense Authorization Act that could have meddled with a longtime balance of work between Cherry Point’s Fleet Readiness Center East and private businesses.
She said the Senate bill would help ensure that FRC East can keep providing Navy and Marine Corps aviation support, thus helping protect Cherry Point and its $2 billion annual economic impact on the area.
The act authorizes nearly half a billion dollars for military construction at bases in North Carolina, including $45 million at Cherry Point for construction, Hagan said. That would build an air support squadron command center for liaisons between pilots and ground crew and a new weapons storage facility.
The 16 projects authorized at state bases also include special operations forces facilities at Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg, a medical clinic at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, and buildings at New River air station. They must now be funded through the annual appropriations process, she said.
Another provision would require the Department of Defense to issue defense-wide guidance on tracking and handling possible environmental contamination exposure on military installations. Hagan and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., pushed for the provision as it relates to water contamination concerns at Camp Lejeune.
Also as part of the bill, TRICARE deductibles will not increase, and the defense department would not be permitted to establish TRICARE enrollment fees. Other provisions would require the defense department to help exiting service members find civilian career opportunities, and to address post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and sexual assault prevention.