Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Enough With Ethanol"

Here, here!
We are in complete agreement and have been for going on a decade, using every tool in the kit, from humor to ridicule to get the point across. Here's the intro to one of  our rambles through the cornfields, 2011's "What Happens To Corn Prices If Ethanol Subsidies Disappear? (ADM; BG; MOO)":
I've forgotten who said it but the pithiest comment back in 1990, when the Omnibus budget bill and the EPA mandates on oxygenates teamed up was something to the effect:
The recipe for ethanol? 
Combine corn with subsidies...
From Barry Ritholtz at Bloomberg View:
With the Iowa caucuses now blessedly behind us, we can discuss a more serious subject: The engine-destroying, food-burning, anti-free-market program that is corn-based ethanol. 
Why we still subsidize turning food into an inefficient fossil-fuel substitute is anyone’s guess -- but mine is that the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus has been the main reason. Anyone who wants to be president simply can't risk pointing out how ruinous and wasteful ethanol is, lest they get punished by the Iowa corn producers. 
Yet there are some promising signs that the ethanol industry's grip on the political process has been loosened. This was made clear on Feb. 1, when Senator Ted Cruz won the Republican Iowa caucus. Although he later waffled a bit, he voiced opposition to ethanol subsidies on "Meet the Press. This was a contrast with other candidates who lent their support, and particularly Donald Trump, who called for higher ethanol mandates. As Bloomberg News observed, “Senator Ted Cruz’s victory in the Iowa Republican caucuses emboldens other critics of federal biofuel mandates just as the U.S. Senate is poised to consider a measure that would gut the decade-old program.” 
That is potentially great news for taxpayers, auto enthusiasts, small-equipment users and boaters -- literally anyone who uses gasoline, almost all of which is mixed with much more ethanol than is needed. 
Here is a stunning factoid: Iowa grew 2.4 billion bushels of corn on 13.2 million acres of land in 2014. Much of that corn is used as feedstock for animals and for ethanol plants. Less than 4,000 acres out of those 13.2 million are used for sweet corn-- the tasty variety humans eat, and the kind you see at roadside stands and farmer's markets across the state. In total, 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop, the world's largest, is used to produce ethanol. 
Robert Bryce, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, observed that ethanol “costs more than traditional fuel, and it’s worse for the environment than traditional fuel. It’s a terrible, terrible deal.”...MORE
Even one of the early promoters, Al Gore, was dragged kicking and screaming to the realization that fuel ethanol is just stupid. Sixteen years after Big Al, as President of the Senate, cast the tie-breaking vote upholding the ethanol mandate we posted Nov. 22, 2010's U.S. corn ethanol "was not a good policy"-Gore (ADM; PEIX)".

That one has some really good quotes, here's one of them:
"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." -Al Gore
It wasn't just Al. Back in March 2007 we told the story of ADM's lobbying prowess in "Ethanol, Rent-seeking, ADM and God":
In 1995 The Cato Institute put their imprimatur on a paper that said each dollar of Archer Daniels Midland's ethanol profit cost the American taxpayer $30. This wasn't quite fair, as it ascribed all the government subsidy costs to ADM's lobbying efforts.

That said, Dwayne Andreas was a prodigious lobbyist.  
This from SourceWatch: "A Watergate-era investigation led to criminal charges that he had illegally contributed $100,000 to Humphrey's 1968 campaign for President, but Andreas was acquitted. And his $25,000 cash donation to President Richard M. Nixon's re-election bid in 1972 became a focus of Watergate inquiry into abuses surrounding unreported campaign money. According to an investigative memo uncovered in 1992 that quotes President Nixon's personal secretary Rosemary Woods, Andreas delivered $100,000 in $100 bills to the White House shortly before the 1972 election."
I've looked at love from both sides now.

Mr. Andreas' motivation was higher than just rent-seeking for ADM, The Washington Post noted in 1985 that "Andreas said he was raised in a religious tradition that called for 'tithing' 10 percent of personal income to the church. And, he adds, 'I consider politics to be just like the church.'"  
A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that the cost to the taxpayer for each dollar of ADM's ethanol profit is down to $2.85. The current round of subsidies are set to expire in 2010.