Gore: On second thought, I was just pandering to the farm vote on ethanol

Too often, Americans punish politicians for reversing their previous and sometimes obviously wrong positions on policy.  They label such politicians as flip-floppers, and even when these officeholders switch to their preferred policy, some continue to castigate them and warn of their unreliability.   But sometimes, well, those reversals can seem just a little too convenient — especially when the politician in question admits that he took the first stance just to curry votes.  Al Gore makes the obvious just a little too explicit in his sudden reversal on ethanol subsidies:

Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore said support for corn-based ethanol in the United States was “not a good policy”, weeks before tax credits are up for renewal. …

“It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for (U.S.) first generation ethanol,” said Gore, speaking at a green energy business conference in Athens sponsored by Marfin Popular Bank.

“First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.[“]

So far, so good.  Ethanol as a replacement or supplement for gasoline was a mistake, especially in the massive government subsidies spent on the effort. Ethanol only has two-thirds of the potential energy as gasoline, is harder to transport, and winds up being more expensive.  Worse, as Gore admits now, the subsidies for ethanol have sparked a price war for a food staple as we shove legitimate food into our gas tanks.  It makes starvation worse by making food too expensive, and Gore now admits that “the competition with food prices is real.”

Why, then, did Gore spend most of the last two decades pushing for ethanol subsidies?  It wasn’t because he was trying to help humanity:

“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 other words, Gore wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about ethanol; he was just particularly enthusiastic about Gore.  Thanks to pressure from Gore and others with “a certain fondness” for playing prairie politics over common sense, the US spent almost $8 billion subsidizing ethanol in just the last year.  Slate reported in 2005 that between 1995 and 2003, ethanol subsidies went over $37 billion in the US, most of which took place in the Clinton/Gore administration.

Gore now says he supports second-generation ethanol to avoid using food, instead using wood, waste fiber, and grass.  But the same Slate report shows that these technologies actually perform worse than corn for ethanol:

David Pimentel, a professor of ecology at Cornell University who has been studying grain alcohol for 20 years, and Tad Patzek, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, co-wrote a recent report that estimates that making ethanol from corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel itself actually contains.

The two scientists calculated all the fuel inputs for ethanol production—from the diesel fuel for the tractor planting the corn, to the fertilizer put in the field, to the energy needed at the processing plant—and found that ethanol is a net energy-loser. According to their calculations, ethanol contains about 76,000 BTUs per gallon, but producing that ethanol from corn takes about 98,000 BTUs. For comparison, a gallon of gasoline contains about 116,000 BTUs per gallon. But making that gallon of gas—from drilling the well, to transportation, through refining—requires around 22,000 BTUs.

In addition to their findings on corn, they determined that making ethanol from switch grass requires 50 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol yields, wood biomass 57 percent more, and sunflowers 118 percent more. The best yield comes from soybeans, but they, too, are a net loser, requiring 27 percent more fossil energy than the biodiesel fuel produced. In other words, more ethanol production will increase America’s total energy consumption, not decrease it.

Ethanol production won’t dent the US demand for fuel.  At best, it nibbles around the edges.  But, given Gore’s track record on his endorsements, perhaps he’s looking for another area for investment in Al Gore Inc.

Update: On that note, here’s this from commenter Selias:

Google avaiation biofuels and algae. Then Google Al Gore’s investment into biofuel companies like Abengoa.

Then read this article last week in The Hill, written by none other than Abengoa VP, Christopher G. Standlee:

America needs new investment: In the next generation of biofuels

Then ponder the Federal lands and wetlands bonanza buy-ups in recent years, even pointed out by our very own Michelle Malkin.

Why would the progressive Federal gov’t need so much land? With quotes like this:

The Department of Energy says algae grown on a 15,000-square-mile area, about the size of Maryland, could theoretically meet the nation’s oil needs.

…it’s easy to put this puzzle together.

It’s all about Al Gore Inc.