He concedes the industry he promoted serves no useful purpose.
Anyone who opposes ethanol subsidies, as these columns have for decades, comes to appreciate the wisdom of St. Jude. But now that a modern-day patron saint—St. Al of Green—has come out against the fuel made from corn and your tax dollars, maybe this isn’t such a lost cause.
Welcome to the college of converts, Mr. Vice President. “It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol,” Al Gore told a gathering of clean energy financiers in Greece this week. The benefits of ethanol are “trivial,” he added, but “It’s hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going.”
No kidding, and Mr. Gore said he knows from experience: “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.”
Mr. Gore’s mea culpa underscores the degree to which ethanol has become a purely political machine: It serves no purpose other than re-electing incumbents and transferring wealth to farm states and ethanol producers. Nothing proves this better than the coincident trajectories of ethanol and Mr. Gore’s career.
Ethanol’s claim on the Treasury was first made amid the 1970s energy crisis, with Jimmy Carter and a Democratic Congress subsidizing anything that claimed to be a substitute for foreign oil. Mr. Gore, freshman House class of 1976, was an early proponent of what was then called “gasahol.”
The subsidies continued through the 1990s, with the ethanol lobby finding a sympathetic ear in Clinton EPA chief and Gore protege Carol Browner, who in 1994 banned the gasoline additive MTBE and left ethanol as the only option under clean air laws. When the Senate split 50-50 on repealing this de facto mandate, then Vice President Gore cast the deciding vote for . . . ethanol. That served him well in the 2000 Democratic primaries against ethanol critic Bill Bradley.
During the George W. Bush years, Big Ethanol adapted again, attaching itself to the global warming panic that Mr. Gore did as much as anyone to foment. Republicans in Congress formalized the mandate and increased subsidies in the 2005 and 2007 energy bills.
Meanwhile, the greens have slowly turned against corn ethanol, thanks to the growing scientific evidence that biofuels increase carbon emissions more than fossil fuels do. But the boondoggle lives on in dreams for so-called advanced fuels like cellulosic ethanol. Note Mr. Gore’s objection only to “first generation,” though we’ve been hearing that advanced ethanol is just a year or two away from viability for two decades.
At least on corn subsidies, we now have the makings of a left-right anti-boondoggle coalition. Major corn energy subsidies such as the 54-cent-per-gallon blenders credit expire at the end of the year, and Republican Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn are encouraging the new Congress to prove its fiscal bona fides by letting them die. Chuck Grassley (R., Ethanol) responded this week on Twitter: “WashPost reports 2 of my colleagues want sunset ethanol tax credit R they ready sunset tax subsidies oilANDgas enjoys?”
Messrs. DeMint and Coburn replied, essentially, make our day—and rightly so. Regardless of government intervention, the economy will continue to demand oil and gas, because they are useful. No one could plausibly say the same about ethanol, and maybe now that he’s had his epiphany Mr. Gore will join the fight against the subsidized industry he did so much to promote.