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Campaigns clash over ethanol

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jun 23, 2008

Campaigns clash over ethanol

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jun 23, 2008


Tess Vigeland: And here’s another kernel related to corn: Ethanol subsidies.

Both John McCain and Barack Obama say they’re looking for ways to wean the U.S. off of foreign oil, but they have their differences when it comes to ethanol.

Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer has that story.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: Ethanol has been pushed front and center in this campaign because of soaring gas and corn prices.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” back in May of 2007, Barack Obama defended his support for government subsidies for ethanol.

Barack Obama: If we decided that we were going to make the kind of investment I’ve proposed — $150 billion — then I think at the end of the decade, we could have an auto industry that has significantly reduced our consumption of oil.

About the same time, also on “Meet the Press,” McCain explained that he’s against subsidies, but he said he’s changed his position on ethanol itself.

John McCain: When oil is $10, $15 a barrel, then ethanol does not makes sense. When oil is $60 plus a barrel, than ethanol does make sense. I still oppose the subsidies to it.

That is where the two presumptive candidates differ. Some of Obama’s critics wonder why he’s still supporting government subsidies for corn-based ethanol.

Richard Wiles is the executive director of the Environmental Working Group.

Richard Wiles: I think it’s clearly time to revisit ethanol mandates.

Obama has said the federal government might have to rethink its support for ethanol made from corn because of skyrocketing corn prices. But the New York Times reports some of Obama’s top supporters and advisers have ties to the ethanol industry. The Obama campaign says he supports ethanol on its merits. McCain, meanwhile, says we should lift tariffs on imported sugar cane and use that to make ethanol.

But would any of these suggestions help voters right away? No.

Joel Darmstadter of Resources for the Future says the real short term solution isn’t sexy enough. It’s conservation.

Joel Darmstadter: I don’t think that’ll go over big in the electoral sweepstakes, right?

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

Vigeland: By the way, John McCain today proposed a $300 million government prize to whoever can develop a new type of battery for an electric car.

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