The Left on Ethanol

As the ethanol disaster gets more and more apparent, the liberal left is trying to wriggle out of any responsibility for it, blaming it on Bush and agribusiness. Now, I agree that the President and the rent-seeking giants like Archer Daniels Midland bear a large part of the blame, and several environmental pressure groups have consistently been against corn ethanol (but have put very little of their considerable lobbying weight behind opposing ethanol expansion measures) but it was actually the liberal left’s conversion on the issue that tipped the balance. At one point, Sen. Clinton and the California Senators, for instance, were staunch opponents of ethanol, but as the demands for decarbonization gathered steam, they switched. The terrible energy act of 2007 that massively expanded ethanol subsidies was passed by a Democrat-controlled Congress, after all.

For instance, compare and contrast Senator Clinton’s changing stances. In 2002, she said during a Senate energy debate, something CEI gave her credit for:

We are providing a single industry with a guaranteed market for its products—subsidies on top of subsidies on top of subsidies and, on top of that, protection from liability. What a sweetheart deal.

By 2006, she had switched, citing environmental and energy security concerns for her support for renewables, including ethanol. In 2007, on the campaign trail in Iowa, she said:

Now, Iowa is way ahead of the rest of the country. What you’ve done with ethanol . . . you’re setting the pace.

Anyway, it’s also important to note the role of Al Gore in promoting and sustaining ethanol, something he claims credit for:

When I was in Congress we used to wrangle about the value of making ethanol from corn. Despite the moonshine jokes, I supported ethanol. Even though some of its environmental consequences made me uncomfortable, I thought it was important for us to work on alternatives to fossil fuels to begin to break our dependence on foreign oil. Since then, newer innovations have [come along]: one company has figured out a way to make a new kind of ethanol out of plant fiber–cheaper & cleaner than regular ethanol.
Source: An Inconvenient Truth, by Al Gore, p.137 May 26, 2006

Here’s things he did while he was Vice President:

Supports ethanol subsidies & “farm safety net”
Vice President Al Gore maintains that “it’s well known that I’ve always supported ethanol. I have a consistent record of shoring up the farm safety net.” Gore, who as vice president cast a tie-breaking vote in 1994 against a proposal Senator Bill Bradley sponsored to cut tax incentives for ethanol fuel, adds that “I have not ducked when votes for … agricultural interests were on the floor.”
Source: Sustainable Energy Coalition, media backgrounder #2 Nov 18, 1999

Triple use of biomass, ethanol, plant-based textiles, etc.
“Our administration’s goal is to triple the use of biomass technologies, ethanol, gasoline additives, plant-based textiles and other environmentally friendly products by 2010. This is just one of the exciting ways our efforts to protect the environment will begin to help America’s ailing farming economy.”
Source: Sustainable Energy Coalition, media backgrounder #2 Nov 18, 1999

As for biodiesel, the European Union still insists that its promotion of the Orangutan-killing fuel is predicated on greenhouse gas reduction:

“There is no question for now of suspending the target fixed for biofuels,” said Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

“You can’t change a political objective without risking a debate on all the other objectives,” which could see the EU landmark climate change and energy package disintegrate, an EU official said.

Ethanol was once just a boondoggle. It became a disaster when the greens insisted on making decarbonization the sine qua non of energy policy. They let the genie out of the bottle.

When campaigning for Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar in 2006, Al Gore asked, “What is so complicated about choosing fuel that comes from Minnesota farmers rather than from the Middle East?”

Quite a lot, as it turns out, Al.