Senator Shaheen has signed onto a letter to Senate Majority leader Reid and Minority leader McConnell, suggesting that the corn based ethanol mandates, and all the tariffs and protections associated with it, not be extended. Your initial reaction might be surprise, but this is not in and of itself surprising. Shaheen is on the record being against them since at least 2008 when she ran for the US Senate but not because she is against ethanol. Her problem is the kind of ethanol, and so we can assume her co-signers have similar issues.
On the surface they are claiming to be against the law (the mandate) that props up ethanol on three fronts and also gives 31 billion dollars to the oil companies to offset the cost of forcing them to add ethanol to fossil based motor fuels. I’m against corporate welfare so I can’t object to repeal even with ulterior motives, but this starts off as a calculated, backhanded poke in the eye, not just to the stupidity of the subsidy regime that liberals normally love, but to big oil. And we should expect oil to get screwed. We should simply accept that even with repeal of the ethanol mandate, we could still see the government use other means of legislative or bureaucratic force to keep ethanol in the fuel supply and pass those costs off to the oil companies. If they can screw oil and get what they really want along the way, that’s a dream come true to Progressives. But what do these signers really want?
As usual, nothing in Washington is quite what it seems.
First, they appear to have an interest in dropping the tariffs and price supports, which looks like a pro "free-trade decision," but this is meant to allow cheaper imported sources of ethanol into the country to offset the increase in foreign oil that those tariffs created; by limiting what would be a broader international access to the US market’s imagined need for more sugar based energy alternatives. Again we see a good idea, competition, justified if they can poke the oil companies in the other eye, but how much cover do they need to swing this politically and does this hurt their cause? No, they are simply shifting gears–new tariffs are always an option.
But increasing ethanol access through open markets and price competition is always preferable to the current scheme, and there are real cost saving benefits to dumping the excessive domestic rules even as a temporary side effect to trying to show "oil" an historical exit that does not even exist. So what else do they have planned that they think they can use to keep oil down? (yes, I have a theory–stay with me.)
They do rightly admit (at least) that the cost of extending the subsidy for one year would only create (or save?) a few hundred jobs at a net cost to the taxpayer of about 14 million per job. But there is no evidence that this economic epiphany will translate into other policy changes so no, I do not think they are moving right on debt or energy policy. Oil is still evil, and the left and RINO right is still enamored of the lie that ethanol is a solution to a non-existent problem when in fact it makes the emissions problem worse.
So ethanol remains in the picture, as do incentives, which makes this a chess move to switch the subsidy program away from flat treeless states, to the bumpy forested ones, a move that makes sense if you are pro-ethanol and act like you want to save taxpayers money in the process; it would do both. But it is still based (at least rhetorically) on the wrong-headed idea that we can achieve energy independence–not possible–and that renewables like ethanol can help advance environmental goals that are actually fabricated lies, which even if true would be worse off with ethanol than the fuel they wish to replace.
Wood chips, switch grass, sugar beet greens, and any number of similar products, can be converted into ethanol without affecting the price of food or the stigma of starving the third world just so a few liberals can act like they’ve done something to save the planet. It’s like wood pellets or particle board, a material made from the leftovers of other processes. And if you have to have it, this is better than using food.
But it is still ethanol. It still suffers from the same drawbacks as a motor fuel; hard to transport, less energy per gallon, higher cost per gallon, impossible to produce in any meaningful volume, will not be able to compete without some other federal support, but…can be produced in the states like New Hampshire where trees are abundant and corn is not, and…it needs serious help to meet it’s own federally established mandates, mandates not on the Shaheen cutting block as far as I can tell.
So how much would it matter if one of the biggest cellulosic plants in the country was in the state of two of the co-signers? Boxer and Feinstein’s names are on the letter and I believe the BP owned ethanol plant in question is in their state. They want their plant propped up but corn is in the way.
Is Senator Shaheen’s role similar? It is. She ran for office on wood chip ethanol and now seems willing to kneecap corn ethanol as a means of diverting a portion of that federal money (strings and all) into New Hampshire to create a corporate welfare program that meets both her unrequited liberal love affair with ethanol, and keeps a campaign promise to try and turn New Hampshire into THE renewable energy Mecca of the nation. She can’t get new money for it in this fiscal climate, so she has to hijack old money instead.
So what looks like a fiscally responsible request–and let’s be honest, the current plan is bad and any effort to derail it has to be embraced–is just an end around. And while we might get the current tariff and price supports dropped off the corn side, how long will it be before these meddling kids return to their protectionist ways and demand price props and tariffs to protect cellulose, which will still never be able to compete on price even if it is made from the finest remnants of glorious Granite State timber.
Whatever the outcome–(Obama will never sign it by the way)–by my reckoning Shaheen’s hand is easy to see. She’s not in it for the fiscal issues or open trade, she’s not moving to the right on energy, she is in it for the federal payday. But come 2014, whatever the outcome, I bet you she campaign on it as if she did go right.
Note: That’s a picture of a corn snake.
Picture Credit: Exoticreptilepets.com