Green Campaign Watch: Obama in Bed with Ethanol?

You know ethanol’s public image is poor when the media starts using it as a discovered skeleton in the closet. The New York Times takes a look at presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s Midwestern ethanol interests. The senator from Illinois’ “close links” with the ethanol industry are more like mere associations.

But the article does spark discussion on the extreme differences between Obama and McCain on biofuels. McCain is an ardent free trader and while he’s not against biofuels specifically, he’d rather the market dictate our energy winners and losers (unless it’s nuclear). McCain wants to do away with the massive subsidies corn growers and ethanol blenders enjoy and our 54-cent protectionist tariff on imported ethanol.

Obama thinks this is a bad idea because replacing imported Middle Eastern oil with imported Brazilian ethanol will not help our energy security. Domestically produced ethanol, both corn and cellulosic, can provide jobs and increased self-reliance, Obama says. We hope to see ethanol come up as a debate issue as we move toward the general election.

Here’s the list of the ethanol connections the Times reports:

  • Obama has been joined on the campaign trail by former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle who the Times reports now sits on the boards of three different ethanol companies, including Mascoma.
  • Jason Grumet, Obama’s lead adviser on energy and the environment, previously served on the National Commission on Energy Policy, an initiative associated with Daschle and Bob Dole. Dole is a big ethanol backer and has close ties to agribusiness giant Archers Daniel Midland.
  • Early in his Senate career Obama broke decorum and flew twice on subsidized corporate jets owned by Archers Daniel Midland which is headquartered in Obama’s home state of Illinois and is the largest producer of ethanol in the country.

None of these links seem particularly damning, but Obama’s associations with individuals have plagued his campaign, from Reverend Wright to Bill Ayers of the Weather Underground. While these ethanol connections are important to keep in mind, none of them seem to warrant an all out attack on Obama’s energy plan.