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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Is Obama a Shill for the Ethanol Lobby?


It may not be surprising that any politician from Illinois, the United States’ second largest corn-producing state, supports ethanol, but in Senator Obama’s case, this does come as a bit of a shock. I don’t like to inject EcoModder into political discussions very often, but when it comes down to our possible future president and his views on ethanol as a future fuel source, it’s important that we all be informed.

The reason I say that I am a little shocked by Obama’s support of ethanol is that, however you feel about the man, you have to admit he is usually aware of the popular opinion held by those considered to be experts of whatever field. Those experts, at least the ones concerned with the economy and the environment, tend to believe that corn-based ethanol production isn’t exactly a winner. The main supporters of corn-based ethanol are, after all, farm lobbyists. One just doesn’t expect Obama, with his strong stances on lobbyists and special interests, to be one to buy into the mega-farm corn lobbying.

Here’s what the NYT has to say on that count:

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.

As far as policy is concerned, Obama’s support for ethanol is based primarily on foreign policy and security concerns, not environmental ones. Supporting ethanol, he believes, is a way to divest money and interest from foreign and often hostile powers. With that money staying home not only will the US have greater energy independence, but will send less of its money abroad.

Senator McCain, on the other hand, is a staunch supporter of free trade and wants to end tariffs on foriegn ethanol as well as end subsidies to the US ethanol industry. Sure, McCain’s recent plan to secure $300 million for EV batteries doesn’t exactly smack of free trade, but he certainly doesn’t seem to believe in corn ethanol as a solution to the brewing energy crisis.

You can’t fault McCain for being inconsistent on ethanol, at least, because it seems he’s opposed it since longer than most of us knew about it, dating back to his failed 2000 primary election bid.

So where does this leave voters, people interested in the environment, economics, and the future of transportation in the US? While I have no interest in telling you who to vote for, it’s clear that even though McCain and Obama share the goal of energy independence and greenhouse gas reductions, they intend to go about it in very different ways. It is, in my view, not very likely that either candidate will be changing their opinions anytime soon.

While Obama will continue to support government intervention and ethanol, and McCain the opposite, it is also true that either individual, as President, will need to make compromises on their positions in order to create effective policy. It is here that all citizens, regardless of political affiliation, have the ability to influence the policy makers. My advice: vote for who you like and support the views you find important, because it doesn’t have to end at the ballot box.

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Image: Joe Crimmings

Original here

Thanks for your comments.

1 comment:

cece35 said...

Thank you for your concise reporting of a subject that has recently started to bother me. I think you have helped cement my decision to vote for the right candidate!!!