Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore reportedly has had a change of heart on ethanol, telling a conference on green energy in Europe that he only supported tax breaks for the alternative fuel to pander to farmers in his home state of Tennessee and the first-in-the-nation caucuses state of Iowa.
Speaking at a green energy business conference in Athens sponsored by Marfin Popular Bank, Gore said the lobbyists have wrongly kept alive the program he once touted.
"It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol," Reuters quoted Gore saying of the U.S. policy that is about to come up for congressional review. "First-generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.
"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," the wire service reported Gore saying.
Credits for corn ethanol subsidies expire at the end of the year unless Congress moves to renew the $7.7 billion annual program. Opponents of the corn subsidies say that it removes valuable food products from the table because the U.S. ethanol industry drives up the price of corn.
Reuters reported that Gore attributed a variety of factors to the food pricing crisis that has emerged, but that biofuels definitely have had an effect.
"The size, the percentage of corn particularly, which is now being (used for) first-generation ethanol definitely has an impact on food prices," he said. "The competition with food prices is real."
Ethanol production this year will reportedly consume 41 percent of the U.S. corn crop and 15 percent of the global corn crop. Last month, the Agriculture Department said corn crop production would fall this year and attributed the decline to the increase in the price of corn.
More than half of all corn production in the U.S. goes to feeding livestock. On Monday, Agrinet news reported that the USDA's world outlook board has found that the quality of corn production, despite the lower production level, had improved livestock weights, making beef, pork and chicken healthier and therefore able to feed more people.
Reuters reported that Gore had less concern about second-generation ethanol production, which does not compete with food since it uses chemicals or enzymes to extract sugar from fiber in wood, waste or grass.
"I do think second and third generation that don't compete with food prices will play an increasing role, certainly with aviation fuels," Gore reportedly said.
The Media Research Center's Noel Sheppard noted that as vice president, Gore was the tie-breaking vote in 1994 when the Senate voted to authorize ethanol production. Sheppard said that those who question Gore's motives behind the climate change movement that landed the former vice president a Nobel prize and Oscar should also look to his comments on ethanol.
"So more than 10 years ago, Gore supported an expensive, 'not good policy' because he thought it would help him get elected president. Yet media don't believe he'd misrepresent the threat of manmade global warming in order to become extremely rich," Sheppard wrote Monday.