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Can Daschle Reform King Corn?

So King Corn doesn't seem to be losing many friends to the biofuel backlash--at least not in Washington. Last week, the EPA declined to reduce the quota of corn ethanol in fuel, rejecting Texas Governor Perry's request for a one-year waiver. Nevertheless, the continuing pushback by ethanol-skeptics seems to have put the biofuel lobby on the defensive. The FT has reported that Tom Daschle--now co-chairman of the Obama campaign--may advise America's most powerful ethanol lobbying firm on how to ward off its critics:

[D]espite remarks by Mr Obama that the US may have to reconsider its ethanol policy in the wake of intense criticism about the impact it has had on global food prices, the Democratic candidate and his close team of advisers fundmentally support the industry..."I think that John McCain will probably try to shut down the ethanol industry. He's been very overt about that," Mr Daschle said. "Barack on the other hand recognizes the importance of ethanol and of biofuels--generally."...

The former South Dakota senator would not serve as a lobbyist or meet with legislators on the [Renewable Fuel Association's] behalf but would be advising the lobby group on how to address concerns about ethanol's impact on the environment and global food prices as well as how the industry can make a transition from the initial phase of ethanol production to "something more sophisticated and more diverse".

At the height of the biofuels outcry, Obama weathered some serious scrunity over his heavy ties to the corn ethanol industry, and this latest development shouldn't leave anyone guessing as to where his loyalties lie. But now that gas prices seem to have emerged as the new trump card, Obama's pro-ethanol stance might actually be more political boon than liability. As a fuel additive, heavily subsidized corn ethanol has helped reduce the price of gas, according to some economists. (The Wall Street Journal noted that gasoline companies are currently adding more ethanol to the fuel mix than the government mandates.)

Of course, if what the U.S. really wanted an oil alternative that would reduce fuel costs, we'd be rethinking the tariff on Brazilian sugarcane ethanol. It's a point that free-marketeer McCain used to bring up--that is, in the days before he became the Yes Man on offshore drilling. Nowadays, any suggestion that we should rely on--gasp--a foreign energy source would be likely met with outrage from both sides of the aisle. That being said, the devastating impact of industrial corn production--environmental and otherwise--is only becoming more apparent. So here's hoping that Daschle gives King Corn something more than a pricey P.R. makeover.

--Suzy Khimm