Obama’s EPA reverses course on ethanol, thanks to lobbyists 

Even before President Barack Obama cut backroom deals on health care with the pharmaceutical lobby, the labor unions and wavering senators — and even before he picked that Bill Daley-Bill Clinton-Goldman Sachs alumnus named Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff — anyone paying close attention to the president’s record got a strong hint he was no reformer.

The hint: Sen. Obama’s full-throated embrace of subsidies and mandates for corn ethanol, and his pointed attacks on those who opposed the federal ethanol boondoggle, like Sen. John McCain.

Now, Obama is back on the ethanol horse, helping the K Street-savvy industry by discarding scientific findings from last year that cast doubt on the fuel’s environmental benefits, and issuing a rule this month ramping up the federal ethanol mandate.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft rule last year that corn ethanol was not really a renewable fuel because of all the emissions caused by its production. Last week, though, the EPA reversed course and issued a final rule that would boost the amount of grain ethanol the federal government requires gas blenders to use.

The corn-ethanol industry is rejoicing, but EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “We weren’t dumbing down the standard to favor any particular industry.”

Measuring the energy inputs and the emission outputs of creating ethanol is tricky (different parts of the industry in different regions use different methods). Was it science or lobbying behind the administration’s 180-degree turn on grain ethanol?
We do know that the EPA wasn’t hearing only from disinterested scientists and neutral experts. A powerful and well-connected army of lobbyists works for the corn-ethanol industry, and those lobbyists had a say.

Across the ethanol industry, lobbying is picking up. BlueFire Ethanol Inc. last month hired K Street’s Bracewell and Giuliani, including lobbyist Edward Krenik, an associate EPA administrator under President George W. Bush and a former staffer for Sen. David Durenberger, R-Minn., a close ally of the original ethanol giant, Archer Daniels Midland.

Because ethanol is utterly dependent on government subsidies and mandates, wherever there’s ethanol there’s lobbying.
So it was the lobbyists with tentacles into both parties and the EPA who changed the Obama administration’s mind on ethanol, despite the fuel’s adverse environmental impacts and upward pressure on food and fuel prices.

The science around ethanol — like the motivations of administration officials — is not clear-cut. But the money trail is unmistakable.

Timothy P. Carney is The Washington Examiner’s lobbying editor.

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