U.S. ethanol subsidies totaled $7.7 billion last year. On December 31, those subsidies will expire. Al Gore, while speaking at a green business conference in Athens on Monday sponsored by Marfin Popular Bank, said those subsidies are “a mistake.” Gore said that the “energy conversion ratios are at best very small.”
Gore declared, “It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for [U.S.] first-generation ethanol.” He added, “It’s hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going.”
Gore admitted that he backed ethanol for political reasons. “One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”
Admitting that first-generation ethanol had an affect on food prices in 2008, Gore said, “The size, the percentage of corn particularly, which is now being [used for] first-generation ethanol definitely has an impact on food prices. The competition with food prices is real.”
A number of studies criticize first-generation ethanol, including a 2005 study by researchers at Cornell University and University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) which found that it takes 29 percent more fossil fuel energy to make ethanol from corn than the amount of fuel produced. Switch grass takes 45 percent more energy.
“Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation’s energy security, its agriculture, the economy, or the environment,” according to the Cornell/UC Berkeley study.
A Duke University study recommended leaving land in conservation reserves instead of plowing it to make corn for ethanol. “Converting set-asides to corn-ethanol production is an inefficient and expensive greenhouse gas mitigation policy that should not be encouraged until ethanol-production technologies improve,” according to the study.
“One of our take-home messages is that conservation programs are currently a cheaper and more efficient greenhouse gas policy for taxpayers than corn-ethanol production,” said study leader, biologist Robert Jackson, the Nicholas Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
Who would ever think that Al Gore and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association would agree on ethanol subsidies? The legislative director for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, Kristina Butts criticized ethanol subsidies. “At the end of the day, we’re all trying to get the same bushel of corn,” Butts said. “This is a mature industry. It should stand on its own.”
Word to Congress: Listen to Al Gore and let the ethanol subsidies expire.