Al Gore Says Ethanol Subsidies Are a Mistake

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.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

3 responses

  1. Thanks for the good info Gina-Marie. You and Gore are both right to question the ethanol fiasco. The Energy Returned on Energy Invested (ERoEI) is so low as to make it almost a lost. At best, it is about 1.7:1, compared to something like wind (30+:1), etc.

    I put together a comparison of a farmer planting corn for ethanol versus planting a wind generator. I show energy produced, and income produced for each. It helps explain why so many farmers are choosing wind over ethanol, for energy production. The article is here:

    As the country transitions to electric cars, wind and solar production will be there to fuel the growth of clean green energy.

    Jay Kimball
    8020 Vision

    1. The idea that Al Gore “got rich” promoting environmental responsibility is so annoying and wrong it’s barely worth my time to respond. So I’ll just say QUIT IT!!! No one who knows anything about climate change thought Al Gore was a good spokesman, we all know about his giant house. No one thinks he’s a great example. But none of that makes him wrong!

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