When Al Gore drops an environmental fad, it has truly reached its expiration date.
In his wisdom, the Goracle recently acknowledged what almost all disinterested observers concluded long ago: Ethanol is a fraud. It has no environmental benefits, and harmful side effects. The subsidies that support its use are an object lesson in the incorrigibility of Washington’s gross special-interest politics. It is the monster that ate America’s corn crop.
“It is not good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol,” the former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize recipient said, referring to corn-based ethanol. He called the fuel “a mistake,” and confessed one reason he fell so hard for it is that he “had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa.” These farmers vote in the First in the Nation caucuses and practically insist that their favored presidential candidates drink ethanol at breakfast and hail it as the nectar of the gods.
Al Gore’s ethanol apostasy is a symptom of a left-right coalition that has arisen to expose the former wonder fuel. (The Gore of old insisted that “the more we can make this home-grown fuel a successful, widely used product, the better off our farmers and our environment will be.”) But common sense, even cross-ideological, bipartisan common sense with all the evidence on its side, is no match for Congress’s boundless appetite for expensive favors for powerful lobbies and constituent groups.
Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, the Democratic and Republican senators from Iowa respectively, stand at the doors of Congress declaring: Ethanol now, ethanol forever. They have graced the Obama-McConnell tax bargain with an extension of a tax credit for ethanol that costs about $6 billion a year, and with an extension of a tariff on ethanol imports. Ethanol is so uneconomical that Congress supports it three different ways — with a mandate for its use, a tax credit to subsidize it, and a tariff to keep out competitors. Rarely are so many levers of government used to prop up one woeful product.
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