Why the Senate ethanol vote is less than it seems

It's not often that you find environmental writers applauding the actions of Republicans in the Senate, but when 40 Republicans joined 33 Democrats in a bipartisan vote to shut down funding for ethanol subsidies earlier this month, even some on the left were cheering. However, those cheers may be short-lived.

It's not that ethanol doesn't replace oil in American gas tanks (it does) or that burning ethanol is somehow dirtier than burning oil (it's not), but there have long been several concerns specifically associated with using corn as a source of ethanol. While many of the worst charges against corn ethanol haven't held up to detailed scrutiny, there's no doubt about one fact: the $6 billion in tax breaks and subsidies for ethanol production makes it one of America's most expensive alternative energy programs. Advocates for other technologies often feel that most of the dollars are going to corn, while everyone else is shorted.

So, an end to corn subsidies might temporarily increase the price of fuel at the pump just as it could potentially result in improved funding to start up alternatives, including other means of producing ethanol that use less artificial fertilizer. Except, well, that's not likely to happen.

The Senate vote might be considered momentous for the number of Senators on both sides of the aisle willing to stand up against the agribusiness lobby, but it's really pointless in terms of actual results. Ethanol from corn has much more support in the House, so the Senate vote is likely to be dead on arrival. Even if it somehow survived and made it to the president's desk, it would run up against the requirements of the 2007 energy bill, which would mean a whole new round of voting. So, while the Senate vote may allow some on both sides to claim they stood up against the lobbyists, the truth is that it won't change corn subsidies. The Senators know that. So do the lobbyists.

[Source: Mother Jones, Delmarvanow.com | Image: Public Domain]

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