June 26, 2008

Obama's Ethanol Problem

I’ll admit that, at least with respect to the upcoming presidential election, I’m an Obama guy. But his position on subsidizing corn to produce ethanol is something that hopefully he’ll come around on once he’s in office.

Mr. Obama is running as a reformer who is seeking to reduce the influence of special interests. But like any other politician, he has powerful constituencies that help shape his views. And when it comes to domestic ethanol, almost all of which is made from corn, he also has advisers and prominent supporters with close ties to the industry at a time when energy policy is a point of sharp contrast between the parties and their presidential candidates.

In the heart of the Corn Belt that August day, Mr. Obama argued that embracing ethanol “ultimately helps our national security, because right now we’re sending billions of dollars to some of the most hostile nations on earth.”

Umm, Sen. Obama, how does planting even more subsidized corn to convert into ethanol, which is jacking up the cost of corn here and worldwide and which most experts seem to agree is significantly contributing to the international food crisis, help our national security?

The food crisis is pounding underdeveloped countries, leading to riots and unrest. Unrest breeds anger and hatred, particularly toward large superpowers whose policies are, to be kind, exacerbating the problem.

Anger and hatred does things to otherwise rational people. And just as reports have indicated that our little misadventure in Iraq and some of its related sequelae like Guantanamo Bay have proven to be exceptional recruitment tools for terrorists, it’s not a far leap to believe our food policies might be used in such a manner, as well.

Taking a step back to something more pragmatic – and completely ignoring the environmental impact of planting even more corn (the petroleum-based fertilizers, the gas-fueled equipment, the fertilizer run-off into already stressed waterways, the lost land to more monoculture, etc.) -- as the Environmental Working Group is now reporting, the entire concept of food for fuel has some serious flaws, including a tiny little speck of one called “bad weather.”

Most experts agree that the corn ethanol mandate plays a key role in higher corn and soybean prices and inflated U.S. and global food prices. The Washington ethanol mandate to convert food to fuel, a key provision of the 2005 and 2007 federal energy bills, put the full weight of U.S. policy behind the corn ethanol boom. Add to the equation the extreme weather already inflicted on the Corn Belt, and the likelihood of summer heat and a fall freeze, and an even sharper food and fuel price spiral seems inevitable.

If this scenario plays out, inflation is likely to worsen throughout the foundering U.S. economy. And many experts predict that the pace of food price inflation is likely to quicken in 2009, in line with the ethanol mandate’s climbing food-to-fuel targets.

I know it's getting you votes in Iowa, Sen. Obama, but how about taking that subsidy money and socking it into research focused on other, more sustainable alternative fuels, eh?

Just a thought from a concerned citizen, free of charge.


Brittany said...

Have you read the latest profile of Obama in The New Yorker? Very interesting...he's not as naive (or innocent) as people once assumed...I'm still voting for him, though. Whaddayagonnado? It's politics.

Fillippelli the Cook said...

Never assumed he was naive or innocent, but did assume that he was beyond this sort of poor-policy driven pandering. It's a shame.