Pols Who Don’t Get It About Ethanol

By David L. Brown

Here is a brief follow-up to my recent postings about ethanol. Just over a week ago in my essay “Ethanol Producers Feeling the Pressure,” I suggested that the makers of fake fuel are in deep trouble. I have predicted that pressure is building to remove the government subsidies that help “fuel” this atrocity, the practice of turning food into fuel while poor people around the world face famine.

Today in an Investor’s Business Daily report (link to it here) we see the beginnings of some discussion about that trend. But far too few actually are getting the message. Barack Obama, for example, seems to think that the government needs to do more to encourage this crime against humanity. The IBD story quotes him as saying:

Family farmers and local ethanol producers have set an example for how to embrace new technologies to lessen our dependence on foreign oil,” Obama said. “We are at a critical time in the history of our renewable fuels industry, and we need to fix the imbalance in the market that’s working against locally owned plants.”

It adds: “It’s time to free ourselves from the tyranny of oil and stop funding both sides in the war on terror,” Obama said Friday.

To which I reply: What planet is he from? Don’t any of his advisors realize what a huge backlash is building against the practice of diverting food from its proper place? Doesn’t he realize that, no matter how much economic justification can be brought forth, when people are hungry it just does not do to be seen producing fake fuel from food, and particularly not with government subsidies? That at its root this is a moral issue, not an economic one? Apparently not.

Hillary Clinton also favors support of the ethanol industry, as do most other politicians from both parties. It is just too tempting to see money being handed out to farmers in return for votes while supposedly sticking a thumb in the Saudi’s eye. Yes, except that when the pictures start to come in on CNN showing starving and dead children, the evil result of using food for other than its proper purpose will be seen for what it is: The result of moral decadence and economic opportunism.

Thankfully there is one politician who thinks differently. Last year John McCain ran in Iowa, the Corn State and a nexus of ethanol frenzy, speaking out against farm subsidies in general, and in particular for ethanol. Here is what the Investor’s Business Daily says about McCain’s position:

“I oppose subsidies,” McCain said. “Not just ethanol subsidies. Subsidies. And not just in Iowa either. I oppose them in my own state of Arizona. I am proud of the conservative tradition that the government can sometimes best serve the interests of the American people by knowing when to stay out of their way.”

McCain may be preaching conservatism, but at least as far as biofuels are concerned, he may have some strange bedfellows. Anti-hunger groups are blasting Washington’s ethanol policy for surging food prices. Environmental groups have warned about a negligible — or negative — impact on curbing greenhouse gases.

As president, McCain would seek to end the 51-cent-a-gallon subsidy paid to fuel blenders for using ethanol. That subsidy will cost $4.5 billion this year.

McCain also would end the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on ethanol imports from places such as Brazil, which makes ethanol from sugarcane.

The IBD report points out that corn prices have tripled since 2006; that ethanol producers are seeing their profits squeezed by high corn prices; that the practice helped push up food prices by 4.5% in the U.S. last year; that that represents grocery bills higher by $15 billion; and that according to the World Bank “almost all of the increase in global corn output went for bio-fuels production in the U.S.” The report warned that biofuels production in the U.S. and elsewhere has contributed to a rise in food prices that threatens to undermine global poverty gains made in the past decade.

The IBD report also included this:

Ethanol mandates are “causing environmental harm and contributing to a growing global food crisis,” wrote Earth Policy Institute president Lester Brown and Jonathan Lewis of the Clear Air Task Force in a Washington Post op-ed last week.

They noted that by using one-fourth of its corn crop for fuel last year, the U.S. cut oil consumption by a mere 1%.

The harm that is being done to the world economy and security, and the building tidal wave of repugnance that is soon going to break over the U.S. political scene, is immense. It just does not make sense to continue any further down this road. What should be done is to stop all new production of ethanol distilleries and shut down those already in production until they can find some way to make fake fuel from something besides food.

I will once more quote what is becoming my personal mantra for this subject:

“The mythic teacher Jesus is said to have turned water into wine, but only a living Satan would turn wine into water or food into fuel.”

Well it’s far too long to make a bumper sticker, but wouldn’t it look good on billboards around the Washington Beltway? Probably won’t happen, but I do think that this issue will be ripening like a roadkill raccoon in the middle of the road to the White House as the presidential campaign unfolds. Whether Obama or Clinton faces McCain, they will have to do some fast back pedaling to distance themselves from this atrocious example of greed and avarice. And those Iowa farmers who despise McCain might be better served to just STFU and go back to the important task of feeding the world.

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