The top polling presidential candidates are getting all the press these days as you would expect, but the rest of the field is still out there trying to woo voters in the early primary and caucus states. That includes Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who was back on the trail last week in Iowa talking about one of my key issues of interest in this election… energy. Jindal isn’t doing very well in the national polls thus far and seems to be trying to shake up the game somewhat. With that in mind, he’s taking what some are describing as a tough but fair line, speaking truth to Iowans about ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard. (From the Des Moines Register)
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley agreed on a need for federal agriculture subsidy reforms, including moving away from direct annual subsidies to farmers, during a fundraiser for Grassley in Marion on Saturday afternoon.
During a one-on-one interview with the Register before the private fundraiser, Jindal said he wants to continue the reforms happening now, and move subsidies toward an insurance model that helps farmers in dire situations…
“At the time, I thought it was a good thing to help the industry get on its feet to compete,” Jindal said. “But I also think it’s time now to try and phase it out. The reason I say that is I don’t like the government picking winners and losers.”
If Jindal were really on board with dumping the RFS I would be happy to see his opinion “evolve” and get on the team with the good guys. But has he really? Jindal released his energy plan last September, along with a number of other policy papers. At the time it didn’t raise that much of a stir, but he brought up the RFS question right out of the gate. At first glance it looked good, and even the Wall Street Journal praised his energy plan last year for going after Iowa’s sacred cow.
But folks who read his full plan in September saw through it, such as Dan McLaughlin at Red State. Jindal says a lot about not picking winners and losers, (a recurring theme many of us agree with) but he doesn’t want to turn ethanol into a loser too quickly. McLaughlin found this quote from the plan to be “disappointing.”
However, while government should not pick winners and losers in the marketplace, it also should not make abrupt and radical policy changes that disincentivize investment. In short, the government should not turn specific sectors from “winners” to “losers” overnight. Instead, federal policy should provide a gradual transition away from all sector-specific subsidies and mandates, including requirements like the RFS. In addition, the federal government should continue to fund basic research and development into more efficient forms of ethanol and biodiesel.
In that one section you can see the problem I have with candidates who are trying to play this particular shell game. They know that conservatives nationally are opposed to the RFS and mandates requiring ethanol in our gasoline and other energy products. But that brass ring of the Iowa caucuses is still too tempting so they talk about a “gradual” shift away from it. When you hear Jindal addressing the folks in Iowa it sounds like he’s talking about more of a “generational change” so that they can support him, ostensibly because the RFS wouldn’t disappear until they were dead and in their graves.
You can’t eat your cake and have it too, and when it comes to ethanol you’re either on our side or you aren’t. Saying that a government policy is harmful and should be eliminated is not a very compelling campaign point if you’re not willing to remove it until some hazy point beyond the horizon. If Jindal wants to build some support by taking the same tough stand that both Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina have taken on this issue, he needs to clarify when he would do something about it if elected. Until he does that I’m taking this as little more than political doublespeak.