As a radical centrist, I’m always looking to find common ground with unlikely allies. I like nothing better than to praise Republicans, Conservatives, or Teabaggers when they land on the correct side of an issue. So, I have to applaud Paleo-Conservative Senator Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, for joining with Democrat Diane Feinstein to call for an end to subsidies for corn ethanol. We will spend around $6 billion this year on a $0.45 per gallon tax credit for ethanol use, and protect producers with a $0.54 per gallon tariff on imports.
The biggest problem with producing ethanol from corn here is the ‘energy balance.’ With the fuel, fertilizer and pesticides used in farming and distilling, it takes one gallon of oil to produce 1.3 gallons of ethanol. In Brazil, they make it out of sugar cane and come away with an energy balance of one to eight. They started 30 years ago and have phased out their subsidies. Vehicles run on 25% ethanol there; the world’s only sustainable biofuels economy.
To do that here, we’ll have to raise hell with the lobbied-up corn and sugar producers, as well as the oil companies. It’s almost election season and no candidates want to face Iowa Caucus voters and tell them they want to cut ethanol subsidies. And they want those big campaign checks from Archer Daniels Midland. Professional tax bitch Grover Norquist, bagman for Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed, is calling any cut in ethanol money a ‘tax hike.’
But our situation is ridiculous, loaded with perverse incentives. Maybe the stars will align and give some in Congress the nuts to take on the status quo. After all, we are literally paying in blood for oil.