Biofuels, Subsidies, and Jobs

Like most everything else in our current political climate, biofuels have emerged as a contentious issue for all those concerned.  Farmers argue that the needs of local owners are paramount.  Politicians argue that extending biofuels subsidies will help produce much needed jobs.  Economists, meanwhile, argue that these subsidies preclude greater investment in green technology, increase farmland use- raising the cost of food, and eschew energy independence.

At the Wilson Center earlier this year, C. Ford Runge, Distinguished McKnight Director of the Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy at the University of Minnesota, spoke of America’s biofuels subsidies.  He noted the current inefficiencies of biofuels  and stated that “to fill the tank of an SUV with ethanol will require enough corn to feed a poor family in a developing country for a year.”  At a later event, Randy Schnepf, an agricultural policy specialist at the Congressional Research Service, explained that ethanol in the U.S. represents 97 percent of all biofuels production.  He also noted the market-distorting effects on food prices due to biofuels subsidies.

Despite these criticisms, the Obama administration remains stalwart in supporting biofuels as a means to achieve energy independence.  According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “Advancing biomass and biofuel production holds the potential to create green jobs, which is one of the many ways the Obama Administration is working to rebuild and revitalize rural America.”

Posted by: Wesley Milillo

Sources: Environmental Protection Agency, The Mountain Mail, The New York Times, Washington Monthly,

Photo credit: Corn of the Children courtesy of flickr user Whatknot.


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