A Vote Against Biofuels

By Art Cullen

So you know what you’re voting for in November: The Republican Party this week unanimously endorsed a platform that calls for the elimination of the mandate that requires oil refineries to include biofuels in the mix. John McCain has never supported biofuel incentives and never will.

The 2004 GOP platform supported biofuels, as did President George W. Bush. “It’s proof that Republicans aren’t always right,” Sen. John Thune, R-SD, said. “On this one, they just got it wrong.”

Here’s who got it right: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., always has been a strong supporter of biofuels mandate. Were it not for the mandate we would not see nearly the use of the biofuel that we do today.

Obama voted for the farm bill that promotes all sorts of renewable energy breakthroughs. McCain voted against it. The senator from Arizona has also opposed the wind energy production tax credit, authored by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Were it not for that tax credit, those wind turbines cropping up from North Dakota to Texas would not be turning today.

Grassley noted after the platform vote that 5% of America’s vehicle fuel comes from ethanol. Without that, “it would be sending billions of dollars more to Arabs, and I just don’t think that’s good economic security. It’s not national security, it’s not good foreign policy.”

That’s Chuck Grassley and John Thune talking, not Tom Harkin or Russ Feingold.

For his part, Obama plans to invest $150 billion over the next decade in renewable energy deployment while creating 5 million new “green” jobs. McCain talks mainly about drilling for oil offshore and in Alaska while building nuclear power plants.

The Republicans got something important right at their convention: They agreed that Iowa will remain first in the presidential nominating process along with New Hampshire and South Carolina. That means that the state with the highest literacy rate and the lowest abortion rate will perform the important function of winnowing the field of viable candidates to about three per party. The Democrats will play along. That’s good for America.

Has the Bubble Burst?

Slack demand and a stronger dollar have caused oil prices to drop, dragging all other commodities with it, from copper to corn. Food conglomerates and oil companies would tell us that biofuels drove up the price of food, keeping it from the mouths of starving children. By now, we should know the truth: that the strength of the dollar and the price of oil are what dictate how much the farmer earns and who eats what.

Corn prices have dropped 29% since their late June high of $7.90 per bushel in Chicago. Steel prices are off 30% over the same period. The drops appear to coincide with oil backing off as Americans cut consumption by 5%, and started to use more biofuels.

The dollar also has been gaining strength against other currencies over the same period. That makes US exports more expensive on international markets.

The long and short of it is this: A corn grower whose costs per acre used to be $300 under the old below-$3 per bushel regime now has costs posted at about $800 per acre. Assuming a 175-bushel yield, that farmer will make about the same amount of money today as he did four or five years ago as land and input costs rose just as fast as commodity prices.

Art Cullen is editor of The Storm Lake (Iowa) Times.

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2008

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