Pawlenty: I was for Ethanol Subsidies Before I was Against Them

Tim Pawlenty at a Corn Research FacilityBy Victor Morawski – Praise has come recently to newly-announced Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty for having the boldness to take on King Corn in Iowa when he officially revealed his decision to run. Said the Wall Street Journal, “Pawlenty has passed an early test of fortitude” by departing from traditional Iowa-Primary wisdom and challenging ethanol subsidies. “The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out,” declared Pawlenty. “We simply can’t afford them anymore.”

While endorsing its substance — as an advocate of smaller government should — I wonder how much “fortitude” this announcement actually took for him to make. Was it instead simply a well-calculated move in a chess game for Pawlenty? Had he already decided that he was willing to sacrifice the pawn of his Iowa Caucus votes for a better chance at winning the game of the Republican presidential nomination?

Did he see that, like his former support for cap-and-trade Legislation, another issue on which he reversed himself, his past endorsement of ethanol subsidies could become a roadblock for him in securing the sought-after support of his conservative base unless dealt with at the outset of his campaign? And was throwing Iowa farmers under the bus his way of dealing with it? Reasonable questions to ask, I think.

Whether first prompted to do so by his farming constituency as the Wall Street Journal suggests or by his own initiative, there is no doubt that he once vigorously supported ethanol subsidies.

In a September 26, 2005 interview with Minnesota Public Radio, responding to the observation that “critics have questioned” these subsidies, Pawlenty is quoted as defending them by saying, “Every other fuel is subsidized too…The notion that ethanol is subsidized and somehow it’s therefore tainted is ridiculous, because we subsidize oil like crazy! Look at the federal tax code and the incentives we give to oil exploration and production and refining.”

At the time he also said that “only people on the far margins of the political spectrum oppose ethanol.” Maybe now that he has to court the votes of some of those people on the far margins like tea-party conservatives and libertarian Republicans, he has at least had to appear to come over to their side on this issue.

While on the subject of this 2005 interview, let me mention another troubling aspect of then Governor Pawlenty’s push for ethanol acceptance. In 1997, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to require that all gasoline sold in it contain 10-percent ethanol.

Even liberal Minnesota Public Radio Journalist Laura McCallum observed at the time that “many states aren’t convinced an ethanol mandate is the best way to increase its use.”

Not only did Tim Pawlenty support this mandate, he was pushing then for upping the required volume of ethanol in the state’s gasoline to 20-percent — doubling the mandated amount.

Additionally, he urged all states in the union to independently achieve 10-percent ethanol usage by 2010 — presumably by adopting similar mandates.

Given this little piece of history on Pawlenty’s ethanol support, is it unreasonable to ask whether a President Pawlenty would want to mandate from the Oval Office what he could only verbally encourage as governor? Would he push for a national mandate on ethanol? Or has he changed his mind on this, too?

Victor Morawski, professor at Coppin State University, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

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