Farm State Democrats Won’t Support Climate Bill Without Ethanol Safeguards

  • Published on June 8th, 2009

corn field

H.R. 2454 the American Clean Energy And Security Act of 2009 (aka Waxman-Markley) aims “to create clean energy jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce global warming pollution and transition to a clean energy economy.”  One goal of the legislation is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

It is “the most ambitious energy and global warming legislation ever debated in Congress.”  The House Energy and Commerce Committee has begun marking up the bill, and it is headed to the full House of Representative some time this month.  H.R. 2454 is expected to be weakened significantly through the process.  One would expect Republicans and lobbyists to water down the bill, but farm state Democrats are also vying for home state protection for ethanol.

Ethanol is big political business in farm countryEthanol is an alternative biofuel that can be made from corn, sugar cane, or switchgrass. In fact, Henry Ford’s first mass-produced automobile was designed to run off of 100% ethanol, so the fuel has a long history in the car industry. When added to gasoline, ethanol reduces ozone formation by lowering volatile organic compounds and hydrocarbon emissions.  This all sounds good, but there is controversy surrounding corn-based ethanol. Michael Grunwald of Time reports that one person could be fed for a year “on the corn needed to fill an ethanol-fueled SUV”. Some research demonstrates that the production of corn ethanol consumes more energy than it yields, and there is concern that corn-based ethanol is raising the price of food, although the USDA denies the increase is significant.  Other concerns surrounding ethanol include antibiotic overusage in its production and its heavy water footprint.

As expected, most debate over the American Clean Energy And Security Act of 2009 falls across party lines, except when it comes to ethanol. Farm state Democrats are demanding the legislation include ethanol safeguards.  According to Reuters:

Democrats from farm states are threatening to withhold support unless they win safeguards for ethanol and other biofuels from proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations. The climate bill could give them leverage: assuming most House Republicans oppose the bill, many in this group of moderate Democrats must be on board in order to pass the measure.

Large farm groups are opposing Waxman-Markey, not just because of the impact on ethanol.  Representative Lucas (R-OK) explains:

From higher energy costs to lost jobs to higher food prices, cap-and-trade promises to cap our incomes, our livelihoods, and our standard of living, while it trades away American jobs and opportunities. For this reason, as this bill stands now, I cannot embrace it.  I am not alone. So far, 34 agriculture groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Farmers and Ranchers, National Corn Growers Association, National Chicken Council, and National Turkey Federation have sent letters to members of Congress encouraging them to oppose the Waxman-Markey bill. Meanwhile, no large farm groups have endorsed it.

Many farm state Democrats agree, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently traveled to the midwest to gain support for the climate bill.

Why should ethanol be exempt from EPA regulations under Waxman-Markey?  Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture contribute greatly to the effects of climate change.  From farting cows to growing crops that emit nitrous oxide, agriculture is globally a major source of greenhouse gases.  Feeding the world is just as important as providing biofuels. It seems unfair to exempt ethanol while expecting food producing farmers to abide by the American Clean Energy And Security Act of 2009.

Image:  Kables on Flickr under a Creative Commons License

About the Author

Jennifer lives on 160 acres off-the-grid in a home built with her own two hands (and several more skilled pairs of hands) from forest fire salvaged timber. Her home is powered by a micro-hydro turbine, and she has been a vegetarian for 21 years. Jennifer graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in art education and has been teaching art to children for over 16 years. She also spent five years teaching in a one-room schoolhouse before becoming the mother of two beautiful children. Jennifer has a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education and is currently teaching preschool, as well as k-8 art. She enjoys writing, gardening, hiking, practicing yoga, and raising four akitas. Jennifer is the founder and editor of Eco Child's Play ( "I’ve always been concerned about the earth and our impact upon it. Now that I have children, I feel compelled to raise them with green values. From organic gardening to alternative energy, my family tries to leave a small carbon footprint." Please visit my other blog:
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  • Thanks for a great post, I never thought of it like that before.

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  • Dave D

    That would be a reference to Dr James Hansen. He's basically taken over the surface station measurement reporting function at NASA. In fact to be more clear, I'm only referring to his departement or segment of NASA.

  • "Communistic" NASA? Ummm, huh?

  • Dave D

    The more CO2 we can pump into the atmosphere, the more plants will grow – and faster. The more plants we can grow, the more fuel we can burn and the more CO2 we can put in the air. This is all a good thing, if we could do more of it, I'd be happier!

    Glaciers covering Canada, Russia and China is a bad thing – well, it's not optimal, anyways. We'll handle it better in N America than in Europe and Asia. Saving the Planet – really? You mean saving man kind, the Planet is just fine. Fear the cold, not the warmth.

    The Sun is slowing down. Even "communistic" NASA has now admitted (after the damn Waxman Markely bill got out of committee and probably can't be stopped by FACTS) that the 30 years of warming, THAT ENDED 7 YEARS AGO, can now be attributed to increased solar output. You'd think since we paid for the satelites 32 years ago, they could report to us in a timely fashion!!! The last seven years of flattening and now cooling is caused by – again, reduced solar output. Flame on, flame off – any child can tell you what keeps us warm and we have NO CONTROL over it, now can you sleep better?

    You can say all you want about "buying gasoline is a sin", but the truth is in another 5 years, we'll need all the atmospheric fertilization and any miniscule warming that can possibly be garnered by Greenhouse Gases – unfortunately tripling the CO2 would only raise the Global temperature a fraction of 1 degree – an inconvenient (physics, not environmental "science")truth indeed!

  • Bill_USA

    The Farm state democrats are really demanding that the EPA use science as the basis for regulations. Over 100 PhDs signed a letter to California Governor Schwarzennegar telling him that the investigation into Indirect Land Use Affects of ALL fuels (including oil – ever hear of the Canadian Tar Sands??) is in it’s nascent stages and we do not know enough to start setting regulations based on incomplete data and conclusions (

    The California Air Resources Board based a lot of their “reasoning” on a “study” by Searchinger, et al which has been widley critisized by legitimate researchers in this field. John A. Mathews and Hao Tan, of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, take issue with the methodology and assumptions used by Tim Searchinger and others in the study, Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases through Emissions from Land Use Change, which was published in February, 2008. (http://blog.25× :

    “The two Australian researchers say the Searchinger study “then deliberately ignores possible trade effects, such as a proportion of this ethanol spike being met by imports from countries such as Brazil. It even ignores the congressional cap that was placed on first-generation corn-based ethanol in the United States, which was levied at 15 billion gallons, about half the spike used by Searchinger and his team to come to their conclusions.

    “Indeed if you wished to put U.S. ethanol production in the worst possible light, assuming the worst possible set of production conditions guaranteed to give the worst possible ILUC effects, then the assumptions chosen would not be far from those actually presented (without argument or discussion of alternatives) in the Searchinger et al. paper,”

    Mathews and Hao said. Noting the Searchinger paper offers no replicable models and parameters to allow others to check its results, it “is perhaps better described as ideology than as science.”

    Matthews and Hao even questioned the fact that the Journal Science even published the “study” because the authors have not made all data and models available for real researchers to test their results.

    Searchinger is not a trained scientist but a lawyer.

    The Farm state Dems you refer to just want to be sure that actual science prevails in determining policy at EPA.

    BTW your statement that “Some research demonstrates that the production of corn ethanol consumes more energy than it yields” is rediculous. All the legitimate research shows ethanol returns more energy than is consumed in it’s production. Check with Michael Wang of the Argonne National Laboratory or the recent peer reviewed research by the University of Nebraska which shows ethanol reduced GHGs over gasoline by 51%.

    For more on EThanol’s energy balance see:

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  • Alexander

    it's really sad… cap and trade was doomed from the beginning because of all the politicking that goes on. While it may be less effective on paper than a cap and trade system, a carbon tax may be the only realistic way to reduce emissions (not to mention a higher gas tax, as using gasoline should be a sin)

  • Classic case where the proverb, "When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Midwest farmers know how to grow corn…lots of it and for cheap. So suddenly the solution to CO2 pollution is a corn-based additive (how convenient). Our government needs to lead the way is establishing production of alternative sources with fewer negative ramifications.

  • Giggity

    "Why should ethanol be exempt from EPA regulations under Waxman-Markey?"

    You're confused. Ethanol doesn't need exemptions from Waxman-Markey. Democrats are simply using their assumed ability to derail Waxman-Markey to be heard on seperate EPA considerations, namely the proposed EPA rules under the Renewable Fuels Standard, which were released last month.

    The rules state that because ethanol uses corn, farmers plant fewer soybeans, which incentivizes Brazilian farmers to plant more soybeans (for food), which means they need to tear downt the rainforest for new cropland. Ethanol gets the penalty for those Brazilian farmers.

    It's a theory worth consideration, but one that has not been born out at all in real-world situations. U.S. corn exports every year are above averages, with records set a few times in the last 5 years. The corn carryover was 1.8 billion bushels last year (the fifth largest in the last two decades). Meanwhile, soybean acres are at a record in the U.S.

    Ethanol producers support carbon regulation for any acres planted that are used for ethanol production. They just oppose regulation for food acres grown in other parts of the world.