Washington Babylon — May 29, 2008, 9:03 am

A Clinton Reader Catches Obama’s Shifting Views on Ethanol

The lavishly-subsidized federal ethanol program is one of the biggest corporate boondoggles of recent times. Eileen O’Connor, a Clinton-supporter based in California, wrote a letter (published below) which charts Obama’s flip-flops on the matter, which look like standard politics-as-usual for a typical Midwestern senator.

I would love to see Senator Obama answer “Six Questions On Corn-Based Ethanol.” By my count, he has changed his position on corn-based ethanol at least four times: from enthusiastically promoting corn-based ethanol as a “No-Brainer” (March 2005) and a way to end “our addiction to foreign oil” (July 2006), to a position that Brazilian sugar-based ethanol is “more efficient” and wind, solar and “clean coal” are also possibilities (March 2008), to a more cautious approach if not a complete reversal, urging a “Need to Rethink” government support for corn-based ethanol early in May 2008 and finally(?) adding “cellulosic ethanol” to the mix later in May 2008.

In March 2005, Obama said boosting corn-based ethanol production was a “no-brainer.” In a July 2006 speech to a Campus Progress rally (as reported in the Harper’s profile), he spent twenty minutes promoting the use of “domestically-produced fuel made from corn” as akin to doing your patriotic duty. http://youtube.com/watch?v=msIpvb8OrhY&feature=related

The Obama Senate website’s point-by-point response to your article includes the following “Fact”:

Senator Obama supports ethanol production because it is a clean, efficient, and domestically produced alternative to oil from the Middle East. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, E85 fuel produces fewer total toxins and lower levels of ozone-forming volatile organic compounds compared to gasoline. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has determined that ethanol production is efficient, creating 1.67 times the energy it takes to produce it. Argonne National Laboratory reports that by switching to ethanol and biomass fuels in our passenger cars and light-duty trucks, drivers can potentially reduce the use of petroleum by at least 68 percent. Blending ethanol with gasoline just at a 10 percent level will translate to savings to consumers of $3.3 billion a year according to independent researchers at LECG (based on 2002 prices).

In May 2006, the Christian Science Monitor published an article that pointed out serious problems with the production of domestic corn-based ethanol, and suggested sugar cane-based fuel from Brazil as an alternative.

In March 2008, Obama agreed, calling corn-based ethanol “transitional,” and jumped on the Brazilian sugar cane bandwagon. On May 4, 2008, he said on “Meet The Press” that it was time to “rethink” corn-based ethanol (on May 6, 2008, 24 Republican Senators, including John McCain, agreed). On May 14, 2008, he parsed his position yet again, calling for support of “cellulosic-based” ethanol.

As recently as April 2008, Senator Obama was still apparently backing a law that would make the manufacture of flex-fuel autos mandatory even though the environmental benefits of “blending” ethanol with gasoline has not been established and many environmentalists think cellulosic-based ethanol is one of the worst ideas on the planet (I don’t know, but I don’t think any of this is a “no-brainer”).

If Obama is so smart, how could he have been so wrong about corn-based ethanol? Could it have been political expediency? Just going along to get along? Saying what he thought people wanted to hear? Corn-producers in his state? Archer Daniels Midland? Winning in Iowa? I cannot help but wonder what his “no-brainer” trust will tell him to say next about ethanol.

I am supporting Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I am a middle-aged white woman so maybe it goes without saying. I should probably also add that I am not a “Republican troll” though I was a Legislative Assistant to a Republican Congressman for a minute way back in the 1980′s (ancient history), one of several Democrats on his staff. I am wary of the love-affair between the media and Obama. I do think Obama is a little quick to call complicated issues (such as our dependence on oil) simple. And I wonder how much of a “change from the old politics” his campaign really represents.

Eileen O’Connor

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Average duration of a Japanese prime minister’s tenure since August 1993, in months:

16

Brain shrinkage has no effect on cognition.

An Indianapolis fertility doctor was accused of using his own sperm to artificially inseminate patients, and a Delaware man pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing his former psychiatrist.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today