Tomorrow, millions of people will feast on flavorless turkeys raised in tight quarters and stuffed with industrially produced, genetically modified corn. You’d think King Corn would be grinning ear-to-ear this week. Instead, His Majesty is furious!
Why the royal grimaces on the eve of industrial-turkey day? Well, first, Al Gore, once a reliable champion of corn-based ethanol as a “green” fuel, committed rank apostasy. The famed utterer of inconvenient truths (and, evidently, occasional convenient untruths) declared:
It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for (U.S.) first generation ethanol … First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small….It’s hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going.
Insolence! And then the kicker:
One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.
In other words, “I always thought ethanol sucked — I just supported it to score political points.” (Lest anyone think otherwise, ethanol is actually liquid fool’s gold for farmers, a point I teased out a while back).
Still smarting from Gore’s heresy, King Corn next had to endure the rebuke of another once-reliable ally: Senate Republicans. Two prominent ones — Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn — are pushing for an end to corn ethanol’s sacred $0.45 per gallon tax break, which costs the Treasury about $5 billion a year.
That wouldn’t spell an end to corn ethanol by any stretch — the 2007 Energy Act’s mandates ensure that the ethanol juggernaut will lurch along indefinitely, sucking in huge amounts of the nation’s corn crop (about 40 percent this year) and calling forth an annual monsoon of agrichemicals onto the nation’s prime Midwestern farmland.
But that $0.45 tax break is a perk — and sovereigns don’t surrender perks without a fight. And indeed, one of the corn industry’s die-hard Senate allies struck back Tuesday. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) took to Twitter to issue a startling threat to his straying colleagues. He fumed: “WashPost reports 2 of my colleagues want sunset ethanol tax credit R they ready sunset tax subsidies oilANDgas enjoys?”
Whaaaaat!?! Did he just drag Big Oil into this? Cat fight!
As I’ve expressed before, I think deficit hysteria in reaction to near-10-percent unemployment is abominable. But if it means a significant lowering of federal largesse for King Corn and Big Oil alike, then at least something good will have come of it.
As for me, I’m ready to see both of those bullies go the way of Marie Antoinette. “Let them drive cars,” these powerful lobbies insist, peddling their snake oil for internal combustion engines. I’ll end this post on a hopeful note, pointing to a recent Brad Plumer post on the New Republic blog called “The End of Automania“:
There’s growing evidence that young people, for one, are less enamored of driving than their parents were. In 1976, three-quarters of all 17-year-olds had drivers’ licenses. By 2008, that was down to 49 percent. And, in a recent survey by Zipcar, the car-sharing company, a full 67 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds said they would prefer to drive less, especially if alternatives were available.