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The Ethanol Factor
The Candidates' Plans for Energy Independence
by Kristin Brekke

Calls for “energy independence” are heard by both major political parties this campaign season, with the candidates each having a plan to guide America toward the goal. Both Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) include ethanol in their plan for energy security, with some similarities and some differences.

It is not the policy of the American Coalition for Ethanol to endorse candidates for office, but it is important for voters to make informed choices in this historic election. Ethanol Today presents here an outline of the two candidates’ views on ethanol policy and how ethanol factors in to each man’s plan for our country’s energy independence.

Ethanol as part of McCain’s plan

  • More Flexible Fuel Vehicles, more complete switch to FFVs by automakers
  • Alcohol fuels as an alternative to gasoline, agent of consumer choice
  • Tariffs, subsidies are not moving us toward energy independence

Senator McCain’s plan for energy is dubbed “The Lexington Project,” which he says is named for the town where Americans asserted their independence once before. In a June 25 speech, McCain said, “And let it begin today with this commitment: In a world of hostile and unstable suppliers of oil, this nation will achieve strategic independence by 2025.”

Senator McCain’s campaign website lays out The Lexington Project in a six-point energy plan, with these key tenets:

1) Expanding domestic oil and natural gas exploration and production

2) Breaking our dependency on foreign oil by reforming our transportation sector

3) Investing in clean, alternative sources of energy

4) Protecting our environment and addressing climate change

5) Promoting energy efficiency

6) Addressing the speculative pricing of oil

The second point in McCain’s plan pays significant attention to ethanol, first through a commitment to Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs). His campaign website states:

“John McCain supports FFVs and believes they should play a greater role in our transportation sector,” going on to cite Brazil’s success of moving from 5 percent of new car sales being FFVs to 70 percent being FFVs in just three years’ time. “American automakers have committed to make 50 percent of their cars FFVs by 2012. John McCain calls on automakers to make a more rapid and complete switch to FFVs.”

McCain’s energy plan does cite ethanol as a promising alternative to gasoline.

“John McCain believes alcohol-based fuels hold great promise as both an alternative to gasoline and as a means of expanding consumers’ choices,” the website states. “Some choices such as ethanol are on the market right now. The second generation of alcohol-based fuels like cellulosic ethanol, which won’t compete with food crops, are showing great potential.”

The McCain energy plan also states that he has long supported the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and that his administration would effectively enforce them.

McCain’s position on ethanol requirements, incentives, and on the tariff have been ethanol supporters’ main focus. He has said that he does support ethanol, but not subsidies.

“Today, isolationist tariffs and wasteful special interest subsidies are not moving us toward an energy solution,” McCain’s energy plan states. “We need to level the playing field and eliminate mandates, subsidies, tariffs, and price supports that focus exclusively on corn-based ethanol and prevent the development of market-based solutions which would provide us with better options for our fuel needs.”

McCain told the Sioux City Journal on March 8, 2007, “I don’t support any subsidies. But I am a strong supporter of ethanol because I don’t see any scenario where the price of oil is going to go back down again.”

Earlier this year, McCain did speak out with some other Senators in favor of the EPA granting a partial waiver of the Renewable Fuels Standard.

McCain voted against the 2005 energy bill, and he was not present for the vote on the 2007 energy bill.

Ethanol as part of Obama’s plan

  • Mandate that all new vehicles are FFVs
  • 60 billion gallons of “advanced biofuels” by 2030
  • “Advanced vehicles” can include plug-in hybrid / FFVs

Senator Obama’s campaign website breaks down his energy plan in to short-term and mid- to long-term solutions. The short-term solutions to provide “immediate relief from pain at the pump” include providing an emergency energy rebate provided by oil company profits, cracking down on excessive energy speculation, and releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The mid- to long-term section of his plan includes these key points:

1) Tackling climate change

2) Investing in our secure energy future and create 5 million new jobs

3) Making our cars, trucks, and SUVs fuel efficient

4) Promoting the supply of domestic energy

5) Diversifying our energy sources

6) Committing to efficiency to reduce energy use and lower costs

Ethanol makes it in to Obama’s plan under the fuel efficiency of America’s vehicles. The website states that Obama would mandate that all new vehicles are FFVs.

“Sustainably produced biofuels can create jobs, protect the environment, and help end oil addiction – but only if Americans drive cars that will take such fuels. Obama will work with Congress and auto companies to ensure that all new vehicles have FFV capability – the capability by the end of his first term in office.”

“Developing the next generation of sustainable biofuels and infrastructure” is another component of his plan. The website states that, “Advances in biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol, biobutanol, and other new technologies that produce synthetic petroleum from sustainable feedstocks offer tremendous potential to break our addiction to oil. Barack Obama will work to ensure that these clean alternative fuels are developed and incorporated into our national supply as soon as possible.”

His plan calls for requiring at least 60 billion gallons of “advanced biofuels” by 2030.

Another mention of biofuels comes in this section under Obama’s proposal of a national low carbon fuels standard, which he says will speed the introduction of low-carbon non-petroleum fuels. His proposed standard would require fuel supplies in 2010 to begin to reduce the carbon of their fuel by 5 percent within 5 years and 10 percent within 10 years. The website states:

“The Obama plan will incentivize increased private sector investment in advanced low-carbon fuels and has a sustainability provision to ensure that increased biofuels production does not come at the expense of environmental conservation.”

Flex-fuel vehicles are also mentioned briefly in his plan for putting 1 million plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2015. He says that combined plug-in hybrid / FFVs could get over 150 miles per gallon of gasoline, and that his administration would invest specifically in R&D for advanced battery technology.

A September 9 Reuters article quoted Obama during a phone call he had with members of the National Farmers Union:

“I’ve long been a strong supporter of the RFS,” Obama said. “I am strongly committed to advancing biofuels as a key component of reducing our dependence on foreign oil."

Obama voted in favor of the 2005 energy bill, but was not present for the vote on the 2007 bill.

For more information:

John McCain

Barack Obama

© American Coalition for Ethanol, all rights reserved.
The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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