Friday, March 13, 2009

Ethanol: Obama's Deal with the Devil

Don't look now but the Obama adminstration is making good on our worst fears, ramping up the pressure for NOT less but MORE ethanol.

Obama's agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack this week announced that he is all in favor a proposal from Midwestern aggies to raise the amount of ethanol that can be blended into a gallon of gasoline from 10 perent to "15 percent or more."

Vilsack, of course, is the former governor of Iowa where they grow a lot of corn. Barack Obama is the former senator from Illinois, the nation's fifth most important corn growing state. Turning corn into ethanol has become quite the cash cow for states like Iowa (which propelled Barack to the Democratic presidential nomination, after all) and Illinois.

It seems like only yesterday we were writing about how the diversion of corn into ethanol had led to a spike in food prices worldwide, causing hunger and even food riots in desperate developing countries as well as a tortilla crisis in Mexico. And we now know how the ethanol process pollutes air and water, to say nothing of the environmental damage caused by all the artificial fertilizers and persticides used to pave so much of the country in corn. Farmers were even taking land out of conservation in the rush to plant more corn.

In our current down economy, however, people are driving their cars less, which means less demand for ethanol. The ethanol industry has fallen on hard times, it seems, and was even begging for its own bailout as part of Obama's stimulus package. Apparently the next best thing is to petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to increase the limit on how much ethanol can be blended into gasoline. The EPA has the authority to do that, but it might just be blocked from doing so by a recent Supreme Court ruling that carbon must be regulated as a pollutant.

Until industry finds something more people- and environment-friendly than corn to use as fuel, we hope corn ethanol is seen for what it is: another way to make money for a misguided agriculture system. This is just one more reason for us to not like the idea of a White House kitchen garden. We can't let Obama make nookie with locavores behind the White House while his actual policies are wreaking havoc on the rest of the country. No, Obama should be judged like every other president: on substance, not symoblic gestures.


Joanna said...

Oh dear. I suppose it was inevitable one way and another, but, all the same, it's a shame. And, yes, you're quite right about the WH garden - substance would be preferable over style


Melissa said...

This should not come as a suprise. I always cringed when I heard Obama talk about the environment knowing his stance on Ethanol. He has strong alliances with big agra. Our country is not serious about creating a change in environmental policy, just a lot of token efforts. In my opinion drilling more oil out of the ground is better than ethanol.

10 to 15% is a huge jump, this is a 50% increase in ethanol production. I guess they have to hedge the assault on HFCS, grain fed beef, and Americans changing their buying and eating habits. I suppose Cargill's lobby is healthy and strong.

Anonymous said...

Come on guys don't be so negative. No to high fructose corn syrup and yes to corn ethanol as a fuel. Help america lose wait and gain energy independence at the same time!