Over the course of TTAC’s coverage of US ethanol subsidies, I’ve often wondered why nobody made a political issue out of slaying an ever-growing waste of tax dollars ($6b this year on the “blender’s credit” alone). And with the political rhetoric about America’s debt prices rising, I’ve been wondering with more and more regularity when someone will finally take the ethanol fight to the American people, who are already voting against ethanol with their pocketbooks. But just last December, Al Gore explained why not even he, an environmentalist standard-bearer, could oppose the corn juice he knew was bad policy, saying
It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first generation ethanol. First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small… One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.
The Iowa primary is a key early contest in the Presidential election, and because Iowans grow and refine a huge amount of corn ethanol, campaigning against ethanol subsidies in Iowa is a non-starter. At least that’s what the conventional wisdom was before today, when, with nearly nine months to go before the primary, the impossible just happened.
Republican governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty announced his candidacy for the 2012 presidential election today in Des Moines, Iowa with a speech that emphasized the need for truth in American politics. And he put an exclamation point on that theme by standing in front of Iowan farmers and saying (among many other things):
I’m here today to tell Iowans the truth, too.
America is facing a crushing debt crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen before. We need to cut spending, and we need to cut it.big time. The hard truth is that there are no longer any sacred programs.
The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out. We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly. But we need to do it.
Did a Republican presidential candidate just take the position Al Gore said he should have (for environmental reasons) but didn’t have the guts to? Have we entered Bizarro World? Not exactly, as the Washington Examiner points out
Pawlenty added caveats — that it would have to be phased out and not immediately, and by saying, “I’m not some out-of-touch politician. I served two terms as Governor of an ag state. I fully understand and respect the critical role farming plays in our economy and our society. I’ve strongly supported ethanol in various ways over the years, and I still believe in the promise of renewable fuels – both for our economy and our national security.”
But he added that, “even in Minnesota, when faced with fiscal challenges, we reduced ethanol subsidies. That’s where we are now in Washington, but on a much, much larger scale.”
So, nobody said politics was going to be all inspiring all the time. Still, regardless of political predilections, anyone who has followed the ethanol mess should be able to agree that Pawlenty’s anti-ethanol rhetoric in pre-primary Iowa were good for the debate. Now that it’s been done, hopefully more candidates will break free of the fear that kept Gore captive and just do the right thing already.