Two dozen Republican Senators, including presidential candidate John McCain, are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to waive the Renewable Fuels Standard they just passed as part of the energy bill in December in an effort to cut food prices. Other senators disagree.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa says the request would cut short the promise of biofuels for our nation’s energy security and is without merit. He says that “singling out increased biofuels production and use in the United States, European Union and other countries as the chief cause of higher world food prices is an over-simplification of the problem.”
South Dakota Senator John Thune says the call for a waiver from the national ethanol mandate due to higher food prices is simply “misguided.”
“We have an opportunity here to become more energy independent and ethanol has played a big role in that process,” Thune says. “I think if the EPA were to go back on our commitment to renewable energy it would be a misguided policy for the country.”
“It’s convenient right now to make ethanol the whipping boy for food prices when in fact oil prices have a lot more to do with the high price of food than the price of corn does,” Thune said. “It’s very fashionable right now to attack ethanol and everybody seems to be piling on.”
Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen says cutting ethanol production would have the opposite effect intended by the Senators – it would actually increase food prices by driving the price of gasoline even higher.
“If you take 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol off the market today, the impact on gasoline prices would be significant,” Dinneen said.
Economist John Urbanchuk of LECG estimates that an ethanol waiver “would add about $1.10 to the price of a gallon of gasoline in the short term because you’ve got to go out and replace that 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol.”