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Mary Ellen Harte and John Harte

Mary Ellen Harte and John Harte

Posted: December 17, 2010 12:24 PM

It's bad enough that the current tax bill appeals to our weakest and worse fallibilities: tax breaks for the rich at the expense of our children's future. But worse, it highlights how stubbornly our leaders, both President Obama and many in Congress, are so thoughtlessly squandering real opportunities once again to move our economy towards a safe, sustainable future. How?

Among the tax breaks in the current bill is a substantial tax break for ethanol created from corn. The trouble is, the carbon footprint that goes into growing the corn and processing it is so large that ultimately ethanol does not really reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the stuff of global warming and climate change. This is especially true when one takes into account that cropland lost to biofuels production spurs the creation of cropland somewhere else, often at the loss of valuable carbon-storing rainforest. Growing biofuels also increases the value of cropland, and thus food, in general, which means more desperately hungry poor worldwide. (For an explanation about all this, see Chapter 8 in our free downloadable book, Cool the Earth, Save the Economy. )

Senator Diane Feinstein tried introducing an amendment that was defeated by the Farm Belt. She tried to cut back the ethanol subsidy and increase subsidies for what will really address climate change, ie: switching to clean renewable energy -- solar and wind, especially. Iowa farm belt senators Democrat Tom Harkin and Republican Charles Grassley led the effort to defeat the amendment, since "about a third of the US corn crop goes to ethanol production."

Blinded by the short term potential gains for ethanol farming, these senators don't realize that they are shooting their states' and nation's longterm interests in the foot -- because what looks like climate change is already starting to damage crop land and production in the US farm belt, as Minnesota farmer Jack Hedin relates. Comparing the weather in his farming granddad's day to the present, he paints a picture of unusually extreme weather, of the kind predicted to occur under climate change, that is now starting to occur often, and is flooding out farmland. How else to describe 1-in-a-1,000-year floods occurring three times within the past decade, as the Minnesota state meteorologist noted? The Iowa senators did not need to look as far as Minnesota, though, for this kind of weather. Iowa experienced bad flooding in 2010 and also within the past several years, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Do these senators really want to encourage even more climate change damage in their own states by slowing down the path towards clean energy? And in many of the farm belt states, centers for clean energy technology are springing up, bringing the promise of jobs with them. Isn't this something they should be supporting?

Meanwhile, every day brings a new press story showing how China is throwing its all into clean renewable energy and outcompeting us in one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy -- clean energy technology.

It's time to cut the corn, Congress, and come clean, for the sake of your own constituents, and our economy.