Another two cents worth of value to add to this debate. There are several factors that have led to the absurdity of us sacrificing food for fuel, and agribusiness rent-seeking is certainly one of them. Yet ethanol was nothing more than a happy little “environmentally-friendly” farm sector pork project for decades – one that Al Gore kept alive by a tie-breaking Senate vote in 1994, by the way – before global warming hysteria took off. I keep saying this, but by making decarbonization the sine qua non of energy policy, environmentalists, even those who have historically disliked corn ethanol, made it inevitable that corn ethanol would be the first answer picked by politicians. I have to say that our national security friends helped them, ignoring the free marketeers’ complaints that increasing hunger was not exactly a stablizing policy.
If you’re determined to both decarbonize and stop sending money to the Middle East then there is but one plausible answer and it isn’t a flex fuel mandate (although allowing sugar ethanol imports could be a smal factor). It’s improved hybrid/electric technology for automobiles combined with nuclear-generated electricity. The auto manfacturers are moving very quickly on their end, and it would not surprise me if all the storage problems were solved and long-range mostly electric vehicles were the norm by 2020. The technology isn’t there yet, though, so mandates are useless. As for nuclear, there’s a chance that lawmakers will see its value and override environmentalists like they’re doing in Europe. The enviros will, however, put up one heck of a fight on that.
Meanwhile, there are two things we can do to alleviate hunger problems. One is to find ways of reducing energy prices (and gas tax holidays probably aren;t the best ways to do that), but far more important would be to repeal the ethanol mandate and persuade Gordon Brown to lead a fight against the biofuels mandate in Europe.
Hunger, by the way, is just one of the problems associated with biofuels. I detail the massive environmental costs in Chapter Two of The Really Inconvenient Truths.