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Presidential Candidates Differ Greatly on Biofuels

posted on October 10, 2008

The Commerce Department reported this week that the U.S. trade deficit edged down slightly in August, reflecting a drop in foreign oil imports.

America's foreign oil bill declined a record $7.3 billion from the all-time high of $51 billion recorded in July. The drop was attributed to fewer shipments and lower prices.

While America's dependence on foreign oil has been relegated to the back burner lately in light of the global economic crisis, it remains a heated topic among those seeking the presidency.

With less than one month to go until the general election, Andrew Batt examined the candidate's rhetoric and record on renewable energy, and filed this report.

Presidential Candidates Differ Greatly on Biofuels

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois: "I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: "I proudly accept your nomination…"

In the longest presidential campaign in American history, energy plays a central role.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois: "We need alternative energy."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: "I will support alternative forms of energy."

In rural America, the energy debate has largely focused on…

Obama: "Wind…"

McCain: "Solar."

Obama: "and Biofuels"

Both candidates have championed the role of alternative energy sources but when it comes to the only available domestic alternative fuel, their rhetoric and record on corn-based ethanol are starkly different.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: "I'm here to tell you some of the things you don't want to hear."

In 2000, John McCain's public opinions on ethanol crystallized during an Iowa Republican debate.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: "We don't need the subsidies and if it wasn't for Iowa being the first caucus state no one on this stage would support ethanol."

McCain's stance against ethanol in the heart of the nation's corn belt may have hurt him politically but the statement further played into the Arizona Senator's "Maverick" reputation. Texas Governor and future President George W. Bush capitalized on the opening.

George W. Bush: "I support ethanol, I completely support ethanol, John. And I'd support it whether or not Iowa was first."

McCain would inevitably lose a hard-fought primary campaign to Bush…and four years later at the annual Farm Progress Show, McCain strongly endorsed the President's re-election bid.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: "He will lead us to victory and he will win in November. President George W. Bush!"

But while the Obama campaign attempts to label John McCain's policies as a "continuation of George W. Bush", the facts on ethanol tell a different story. Bush largely followed through on a campaign promise to support corn-based energy and signed legislation mandating the greatest expansion of ethanol in American history. McCain opposed the use of ethanol in the 2000 campaign but recently supported the unsubsidized status of the industry. This past summer, McCain called for an end to the Renewable Fuel Standard and blamed ethanol, in part, for the rising cost of food.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: "The cost of food and fuel is skyrocketing across the United States of America…"

McCain's stance on ethanol has made for an uneasy endorsement from Iowa Republican colleague Charles Grassley. A longtime supporter of biofuels, Grassley blasted the notion that ethanol was driving higher food prices.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: "And I don't think farmers can be responsible for the high cost of food. I went out this morning and bought a big box of corn flakes for about five dollars. The farmer gets about a nickel out of this box. "

Nevertheless, Grassley has repeatedly endorsed John McCain's candidacy.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: "I support John McCain and he doesn't need to hear me calling him about ethanol these days."

Fellow Senator from the neighboring state of Illinois, Barack Obama, has unabashedly supported ethanol since his 2004 election victory. The Land of Lincoln is the nation's 2nd largest producer of corn and Obama has long-heralded biofuels as a component of energy independence.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois: "(Positive Quote from the 2006 Ethanol Governor's Conference)"

During the Iowa Caucus campaign, Obama embraced ethanol and even spoke at the groundbreaking of a new Vera Sun biofuel plant in Charles City, Iowa. But Obama's support of ethanol has received criticism – namely from a June 2008 report in the New York Times.

The Times reported:

"Not long after arriving in the Senate, Mr. Obama himself briefly provoked a controversy by flying at subsidized rates on corporate airplanes, including twice on jets owned by (ethanol producer) Archer Daniels Midland…"

The Obama campaign says private flights were reimbursed voluntarily by the first-term Senator and that Obama's support of ethanol is on the fuel's merits and not affected by the Illinois-based ethanol giant ADM.

Obama supporter and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle says Obama's views on ethanol and rural America are beyond criticism.

Fmr. Sen. Tom Daschle: "Barack Obama is a friend of agriculture and ethanol and compared to John McCain there is no question who is the stronger candidate for American farmers."

Back on the campaign trail, the candidates policies are dramatically different. Senator John McCain opposes an ethanol blenders credit, calls for a repeal of the Renewable Fuels Standard and opposes an ethanol import tariff on foreign biofuels like Brazilian sugarcane ethanol.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: "I support markets and oppose subsidies that distort markets. I don't oppose ethanol. I oppose the subsidies."

Senator Obama supports the blenders credit, RFS Standard, and the current import tariff on foreign sources of biofuel.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois: "(Pro-ethanol statement..)"

(NFU Pres Tom Buis statement on both candidates and ethanol)

The McCain campaign has long disputed the "four more years of George W. Bush" mantra from the Obama campaign. Ironically, Senator McCain's position on ethanol is at odds with one of the President's most popular policies in rural America.

For Market to Market, I'm Andrew Batt.


Tags: agriculture Barack Obama biofuels campaign 2008 Democrats elections ethanol Iowa John McCain news politics presidential candidates renewable fuels Republicans