Ethanol

Presidential Candidates Rushing to Support Ethanol Subsidies Ahead of Iowa Caucus

Running on empty.

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Cars run on fuel. Politicians run on votes, and they'll do almost anything to get them. That includes supporting mandates that force us to use ethanol, a fuel made from corn that Iowa farmers grow.

They support ethanol because Iowa is the first state to vote on presidential candidates. Candidates want to look strong at the start of the race, so every four years they become enthusiastic ethanol supporters. Even those who claim they believe in markets pander to Iowa's special interests.

Donald Trump, who doesn't seem to have a consistent political philosophy aside from bashing critics and foreigners, now has joined the ethanol-praising club. In fact, Trump says regulators should force gas stations to increase the amount of ethanol they use. It's a convenient way to attack his Iowa rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., who courageously says the mandate should be phased out.

Cruz is right. Legally mandating that a certain percentage of fuel used be ethanol is a bad idea for several reasons:

First, mandating ethanol means more land must be plowed to grow corn for fuel. The Department of Energy estimates that if corn ethanol replaced gasoline completely, we'd need to turn all cropland to corn—plus 20 percent more land on top of that.

Second, requiring ethanol fuel raises the price of corn—bad news for consumers who must pay more for food.

Third, although ethanol's supporters claim burning corn is "better for the environment," that's not true. Once you add the emissions from growing, shipping and processing the corn, ethanol creates more pollution than oil. Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Clean Air Task Force now oppose its use.

Finally, because corn is grown in America, promoters said ethanol would make us more energy independent. Even if the "independence" argument were valid, fracking accomplishes much more. (Anyway, it isn't a valid argument. Trade with Mexico and Canada is just fine. We don't need total independence.)

Since Trump is a businessman, I assume he realizes that ethanol is an expensive boondoggle that wouldn't survive in a competitive market. But in Iowa Trump says, "Ethanol is terrific."

Dr. Ben Carson didn't go that far but according to the Washington Examiner said that it would be wrong to end the subsidies. "People have made plans based on those kind of things," he says. "You can't just pull out the rug out from under people."

It sounds like most politicians want to get rid of subsidies in principle, but never right now—certainly not in the middle of their campaigns. Sen. Marco Rubio says he'd support ending the mandate—after another seven years.

At the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Chris Christie sounded annoyed that President Obama hasn't been more supportive of ethanol subsidies, saying, "Certainly anybody who's a competent president would get that done!"

Bernie Sanders, I-Ver., criticized subsidies in the past, but on Iowa public radio he sounded as if he loves the boondoggle: "We have to be supportive of that effort—and take every step that we could, and in every way we can, including the growth of the biofuels industry."

Of course, big-government Democrats always want to subsidize more. Hillary Clinton says ethanol "holds the promise for not only more fuel for automobiles but for aviation … and for military aircraft; we could be fueling so much air traffic with biofuels. We have just begun to explore what we can do."

Sure. Explore away! That's what market competition does. Entrepreneurs constantly explore options in search of profit. But that's very different from government forcing taxpayers to fund one particular fuel.

Only Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ken.) have consistently said that the market, not politicians, should choose fuels. Unfortunately, that principled stance hasn't brought them much support. Presidential-race betting at ElectionBettingOdds.com has Cruz dropping and Paul tied for last.

Energy expert Jerry Taylor is right to say that running for office in Iowa not only means you must praise Christianity; it means being "willing to sacrifice children to the corn god."

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  1. Iwoa gets all the best boondoggles. Benefits of being first for the bread and circuses.

  2. I’d be insulted if someone told me, “Hey, you aren’t capable of producing anything that people would buy if they were given the option. You’re a loser, but I got your back.”

  3. Oh, it’s not just cars running on corn. Good luck trying to get a job in Iowa suggesting that cows eat grass…
    http://www.utne.com/environmen…..ments.aspx

  4. Also, the addition of ethanol significantly shortens the shelf life of gasoline, reducing the length of time that we’ll be able to use motorized vehicles during a zombie apocalypse.

    1. Just wanted to say I love your username.

      Also, this thread has only 7 comments? Let’s give Stossel some love. Does anyone know Stossel’s position on abortion? Is he a true libertarian on the issue?

  5. Don’t forget that ethanol wreaks havoc on small engines.

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    1. Anon-bot hit it out of the park this time!

      Your mother-in-law is Woz? As in Apple’s co-founder? And he bought a new Citroen 2CV, which ceased production in 1990? So Woz actually has a functioning time machine?? Way to bury the lead there, Anon-bot!

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  8. The ethanol mandate gives farmers incentives to plow and plant all the way to their property edge and leave no land unused. This has reduced populations of monarch butterflies and other flora & fauna [including pollinators] that live on unmowed strips of land on the edges of corn farmer’s fields.
    The mandate also interferes with the Conservation Reserve Program, which paid farmers to leave some wild land along the edges of their fields for native wildlife. Congress has recently mandated a reduction in the CRP with a cap at 24 million acres by 2017. Without the CRP at least partially offsetting the ethanol mandate incentive, more habitat acreage will disappear.
    I’m not a big fan of government paying farmers to reserve habitat [let environmental advocates do that]. The ethanol mandate works against any market efforts to preserve edge habitat. See http://monarchwatch.org/blog/2…..very-plan/ for more information.

  9. It’s a shame, really. Farmers used to be the heart of America. Self employed. Hard working. True patriots. Once you suck on the governments teat, I guess you get soft and never want to let go.

  10. Corn is bad for people. It is the grain that is fed to cattle, horses, and pigs to fatten them up or “finish” them. I don’t mind the price going up, but I do mind that corn is subsidized and cane sugar is charged a tariff. The switch to corn instead of cane has caused enough trouble. Time to let the free market decide.

  11. ‘Corn’ is in 98% of products on the shelves in the Grocery stores. Additives to inks for printing.
    This article is one sided to adjust thinking based in Politics..
    The other side of the ‘aisle’, in ‘Corn’, is in the export of Corn supported entirely in taxation for ‘Food Aid’.
    The Congressional process, is an exchange between Dems -Reps where both ‘get something’ out of commodity commercialization.
    Don’t like the fact 40% of corn goes into gas tanks?
    What about the almost 40% as ‘aid’?

    “Corporations” are benefiting in a ‘Crony manner’, list the Corporations, ALL OF THEM! Include the small family farmer.
    List the family farmers that gets in the pipeline for ‘Aid’ purchases.

    Never happen, Media fears the ‘Crony participants, Media… ‘good or bad’, not investigative exposures, not truths… don’t mention how the ‘Corn’ economy was set, how corn fats are 30% of fat carried by Americans, how some ‘Aid recipients are now ‘Corn fat’ in other countries.. that half of ‘fat’ related heart disease is ‘Corn’ originated.

    Americans, 40% of the population going to bed ‘food challenged.. only some 25% to 30% of corn getting into Americans bellies in some part of that commodities chain.
    Nixon made ‘Corn Sugar’, to use the corn industries newest nomenclature’, possible to reduce swings in food costs a reality?

    So what does America do where ‘Crony’ is a problem in Corn and Corn is as big a part of GDP as Military spending?
    According to the contents of this article.. FEEL.. good or bad.

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  12. Okay, a reference to the Corn God seems appropriate:

    http://mrjonrosenberg.com/post…..e-in-these

  13. I can’t think of a bigger eff you to poor countries than ethanol. Hey starving kids in Africa, I have enough corn in my gas tank to feed your family for a week, I’m going to use it to drive to Starbucks and Baskin Robins to buy food for fun that won’t even sustain me.

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