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:

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

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Neoliberal Arts

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
New Television·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Season 5 of Louie (FX), Louie is a new kind of superhero. Like Wonder Woman, the canonical superhero he most resembles, Louie’s distinctive superpower is love.”
Illustration by Demetrios Psillos
Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.

In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today