I’ve been pretty open here about my support of Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency, but one issue I certainly disagree with him on is his support of corn ethanol subsidies. Unfortunately, it looks like that this is one issue he’s unlikely to improve on, as The New York Times reports today that ties to the corn ethanol industry permeate the highest levels of the Obama campaign:
Mr. Obama is running as a reformer who is seeking to reduce the influence of special interests. But like any other politician, he has powerful constituencies that help shape his views. And when it comes to domestic ethanol, almost all of which is made from corn, he also has advisers and prominent supporters with close ties to the industry at a time when energy policy is a point of sharp contrast between the parties and their presidential candidates.
Nowadays, when Mr. Obama travels in farm country, he is sometimes accompanied by his friend Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader from South Dakota. Mr. Daschle now serves on the boards of three ethanol companies and works at a Washington law firm where, according to his online job description, “he spends a substantial amount of time providing strategic and policy advice to clients in renewable energy.”
Mr. Obama’s lead advisor on energy and environmental issues, Jason Grumet, came to the campaign from the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan initiative associated with Mr. Daschle and Bob Dole, the Kansas Republican who is also a former Senate majority leader and a big ethanol backer who had close ties to the agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland.
The production of ethanol from corn is not an energy-efficient process, and it’s unlikely that using ethanol fuel produced from corn will result in significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions. On top of that, diverting resources into corn ethanol production drives up food prices and could very well exacerbate world hunger. Therefore, by subsidizing corn ethanol, the government is not only not directly addressing global warming (and instead diverting resources away from more viable solutions) but also contributing to a variety of emerging problems. The only people likely to benefit from such subsidies are large agricultural corporations.
This is one issue where McCain, against such subsidies, is in the right. However, considering that his solutions to the growing energy crisis include a gas tax holiday and ending the federal ban on offshore oil drilling (a reversal of a past position), it’s hard to make the case that he’s any stronger on energy or the environment… or on any other issue for that matter.
What all of this underscores is that Obama is not the perfect candidate, and we should be careful not to build him up too much in our own minds. This also emphasizes that even if you do support his bid for the presidency, there will be plenty of issues to push him on now and after he (hopefully) takes office. This is one that we should be particularly vocal about… although based on the source of his strong support for corn ethanol, it’s unlikely that his position here is going to shift.