In Greece earlier this month, Al Gore made a startling admission: "First-generation ethanol, I think, was a mistake." Unfortunately, Americans have Gore to thank for ethanol subsidies. In 1994, then-Vice President Gore ended a 50-50 tie in the Senate by voting in favor of an ethanol tax credit that added almost $5 billion to the federal deficit last year. And that number doesn't factor the many ways in which corn-based ethanol mandates drive up the price of food and livestock feed.
Sure, he meant well, but as Reuters reported, Gore also said, "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."
In sum, Gore demonstrated that politicians are lousy at figuring out which alternative fuels make the most sense. Now even enviros like Friends of the Earth have come to believe that "large-scale agro-fuels" are "ecologically unsustainable and inefficient." That's a polite way of saying that producers need to burn through a boatload of fossil fuels to make ethanol.
Gore also showed that most D.C. politicians can't be trusted to put America's interests before those of Iowa farmers. But there is one pursuit in which homo electus excels: spending other people's money.
Beware politicians when they promise you "the jobs of the future." Last week, the Washington Post ran a story about a federal grant program in Florida designed to retrain the unemployed for jobs in the growing clean-energy sector. Except clean tech isn't growing as promised. Officials told the Post that three-quarters of their first 100 graduates haven't had a single job offer.
In May, President Obama came to a Fremont, Calif., solar plant where he announced, "The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra." This month, Solyndra announced it was canceling its expansion plans. The announcement came after voters rewarded the green lobby by defeating Proposition 23 -- which would have postponed California's landmark greenhouse gas reduction law AB32 -- because voters bought the green-jobs promise.
Back to Gore. There is a movement in Washington to end Gore's mistake. Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina have proposed ending the 45-cent-per-gallon subsidy on corn ethanol, which is set to expire on Dec. 31 unless Congress extends it.
As DeMint explained in an e-mail to the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, "Government mandates and tax subsidies for ethanol have led to decreased gas mileage, adversely effected the environment and increased food prices. Washington must stop picking winners and losers in the market, and instead allow Americans to make choices for themselves."
That's what free-market types who oppose corporate welfare -- like me -- have been saying for years.
So the question is: Will this new batch of Republicans have the intestinal fortitude to buck the farm lobby and agribusiness by weaning them from the public teat? Or are they no better than the farm-lobby-pandering Al Gore?