Biofuels on candidates' radars on campaign trail

ByABC News
December 16, 2007, 7:04 AM

— -- President Bush did it, as did his Democratic rivals in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Bill Clinton did it before any of them.

They campaigned in Iowa and talked up corn ethanol. It's assumed to be a rite of passage for anyone wanting to win the presidency by starting strong in Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Democratic candidates this year are no different. They're embracing virtually everything on the biofuel industry's wish list, including an energy bill nearly completed that would require motorists to use 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, nearly six times what ethanol producers will distill this year.

But the Republican candidates are divided over whether the government should require increased production of the fuel or whether to continue the subsidies and import tariff upon which the industry has come to depend.

"Some of the Republicans are not really pandering to the corn lobby. Whether they are going to pay for that at the ballot box remains to be seen," said Kenneth Green, an expert on energy policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a pro-business think tank in Washington, D.C.

The ethanol industry will lose a good friend when Bush leaves office. It's tough to beat having a former Texas oilman declare the nation "addicted to oil" and challenge Congress to dramatically increase biofuel production. And it was Bush who introduced switchgrass, a potential new feedstock for ethanol, to the nation's political lexicon.

Republicans differ on ethanol mandate, subsidies

Among the leading GOP candidates, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney talk the most like Bush on ethanol.

Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, goes even further than Bush, by pledging to make the United States energy-independent in just 10 years. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, supports some of the biofuel industry's priorities, such as the continuation of tax subsidies, but he has stopped short of endorsing the 36 billion-gallon mandate.

Romney has promised to support aggressive research into cellulosic ethanol.