It's been fairly well documented how bad the $288 billion farm bill--which the Senate began debating today--is for the federal budget, for farmers in the developing world, for the Doha round of trade talks, and for Americans' waistlines. But if you're one of those doubting Thomases unpersuaded by the fiscal, moral, geopolitical, and gastrointestinal cases against it, take a look at this story in The Hill today. In turns out that when the federal government considers bills that envision spending huge sums of money, lobbyists line up to get a piece of the action. (Who knew!?) The farm bill has become a magnet for all sorts of special interests pushing dubious causes that couldn't pass on their own, some of which are entirely unrelated to agriculture. Like this one: 

A new group is trying to win federal support for turning coal into a transportation fuel. The Coal-To-Liquids Coalition, an industry group tied to the National Mining Association, has sought an extension for a 50 cent per gallon tax credit for coal-to-liquids (CTL) developers. The credit was in a Senate energy tax package that was defeated earlier this year. ...

The coalition turned to the farm bill instead. Sens. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) successfully pushed to attach the credit extension to 2010. To get the tax break, CTL developers will have to capture 50 percent of the carbon they produce, a nod to concerns about carbon dioxide’s contribution to global warming.

Turning coal into a transportation fuel, as it happens, is an absolutely miserable idea from a carbon-emissions standpoint. The 50-percent-capture provision seems nice--until you realize that CTL releases two and a half times as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere per unit of energy produced as diesel. So the farm bill, in addition to everything else, is also subsidizing an energy source that's worse for the atmosphere than a conventional fossil fuel--just one more reason for senators to support the sensible Lautenberg-Lugar alternative to the farm bill.

--Josh Patashnik