Photo: World Economic Forum, Flickr, CC BY-SA
Corn ethanol has turned out to be a bad idea -- there's little disagreement about that, especially in environmental circles. For starters, it's an inefficient fuel source, consuming tons of water to produce a modest amount of energy. And that's to say nothing of the unintended consequences promoting ethanol has had on deforestation and food production around the world. And yet, we continue to grant ethanol producers in the US a pretty hefty subsidy -- to the tune of $8 billion. Now, Al Gore, one of the early supporters of ethanol, says that he made a mistake in creating those subsides.
From Politics Daily:
Al Gore says his support for corn-based ethanol subsidies while serving as vice president was a mistake that had more to do with his desire to cultivate farm votes in the 2000 presidential election than with what was good for the environment.The heavy emphasis on funding first-generation ethanol production in the US has turned out to be a pretty sizable blunder -- but for precisely the reason enunciated in Gore's frank admission, that funding is unlikely to go away.
"It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol," Gore said at a green energy conference in Athens, Greece ... On reflection, Gore said the energy conversion ratios -- how much energy is produced in the process -- "are at best very small." "One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee," he said, "and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president."
Supporting ethanol, as with the likes of clean coal, has become a key way for politicians to win support from industries while adding an evident sheen of the cutting edge to the broader public. Those in the agriculture industry who worry about their jobs find reassurance in the support for ethanol -- much like those in the coal industry do with the promised support for the mythical clean coal.
As a result, there's no easy way to pull the plug -- kill ethanol, and you piss off the farmers. Pay lip service to an inefficient, but still supposedly "green" energy source, and keep a relatively small subsidy in place, and you keep their vote. This is how a lot of dubious subsidies get started and perpetuated.