North Dakota Leaders Fire Back At Al Gore Over Ethanol Remarks

WASHINGTON - MARCH 03:  U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) (R) speaks as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (L) listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill March 3, 2009 in Washington, DC. Dorgan and McCain introduced legislation to establish a Senate select committee to investigate the causes of the current financial crisis and make recommendations to ensure that such crisis would not happen again.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Recently Al Gore admitted that his support for corn-based ethanol in the past was more a political calculation than a principled stand on green energy. He admitted that ethanol really isn’t all that green, and that it has serious impact on food prices.

Unfortunately, out here in ag country, it seems our political leaders are still very much concerned with the politics of ethanol that Gore has set aside.

Outgoing U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan has known Gore for many years.

“I (have always) supported Al (Gore). Frankly, I`m surprised by former Vice President Gore`s statement,” said Dorgan.

Governor John Hoeven, who will soon replace Dorgan in the Senate, said he hadn`t heard about Gore`s recent comments.

“I haven`t seen anything on it, so I`d have to take a look, but that doesn`t square up with the information that I have, or that I`ve seen, regarding ethanol or the industry,” said Hoeven.

Gore said massive subsidies for first generation ethanol is bad policy, and he said the amount of energy produced in the process isn`t worth the effort. Gore also said ethanol, which is used to make biofuels, impacts food prices because corn and other food sources being used to make fuel reduces food supply, thus raising food prices.

North Dakota leaders said ethanol plays a critical role in the economy and our national security.

“It`s important, in terms of not only generating jobs and opportunity throughout rural America, but reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” said Hoeven.

Dorgan said the United States is vulnerable.

“A country that is 60% dependent on foreign oil is very vulnerable and the fact is that extending our oil supply by producing renewable energy in our farm fields year after year after year by the production of ethanol, it just makes good sense for this country`s future,” said Dorgan.

“When you get down to looking at the basics of corn-based ethanol, the promise that it brings to the United States of America for its future, it`s a good thing,” said Schafer.

Gore said he now supports second and third generation ethanol technologies, including farm waste and switch grass, that don`t compete with food prices.

Now, I don’t have anything against ethanol personally. I just resent the market distortions ethanol subsidies create.

Let’s be honest: We cannot promote the creation of fuel from food crops, or at least from crops grown on land used for food crops, without driving food prices higher. Also, not an ounce of ethanol is produced in this country without heavy government subsidies.

Our political leaders talk of ethanol making us independent from foreign oil. The only way that could happen is if we began using nearly all of our farm land to produce ethanol crops and if we were willing to pay a heavy fiscal price. Ethanol even with subsidies is more expensive than gasoline in that it is a less efficient fuel. You have to burn more ethanol to get the same sort of mileage as gasoline.

And remember that the subsidies themselves aren’t free. They come from our tax dollars.

A nation fueled by corn-based ethanol would be a nation in which travel (not to mention shipping and all the other sorts of commerce fueled by gasoline-powered travel) is so expensive as to be prohibitive for most citizens. Road trips would become a thing of the past for most; a luxury indulged by the rich. Our cost of living would go through the roof, and then there’s that pesky food prices thing.

I, for one, don’t want to live in a nation made energy independent by ethanol as the energy exists now.

Subsidizing ethanol isn’t about energy independence. It’s about pleasing Big Agriculture.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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