Vilsack Appointment Draws Criticism

With the selection of former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack to lead the Agriculture Department, president-elect Barack Obama’s administration has been called the "dream team" for the ethanol industry, but not everyone is happy about that.

The choice of Vilsack is not surprising, as Obama pledged strong support for the ethanol industry throughout the presidential campaign, but it is troubling, considering the environmental impacts of corn-based ethanol production a new doubts concerning the viability and environmental effects of cellulosic ethanol, made from non-food sources. 

Vilsack’s home state of Iowa is the number one corn producing state, followed by Obama’s home state of Illinois. Representative Ray LaHood, a Republican from Illinois, and another ethanol supporter, has been discussed as a potential choice for secretary of Transportation.

The ethanol industry is currently in disarray, following a year in which it has received bad press for contributing to world-wide food shortages, struggled with soaring commodity prices, and is now undercut by the recent drop in gasoline prices. 

The Chicogao Tribune reported that plans for 19 ethanol refineries have been canceled recently, including nine in Illinois. And the U.S. Energy Information Administration said yesterday the country will fall well short of its mandate for 36 billion gallons of ethanol by the year 2022, due to slow progress in the development of cellulosic ethanol.

Incoming Energy Secretary Steven Chu is perhaps the loan critic of corn-based ethanol, though he has supported continued development for cellulosic.

“The worry is if the Cabinet gets too crowded with people who are drunk
on ethanol, we won’t have the policy discussions we need,” said Ken
Cook, the president of the Environmental Working Group.

Cook’s group believes that mandates for corn-based ethanol wasted tax dollars, while contributing to environmental degredation and higer food prices.

However, Cook said Vilsack has a reputation for being “fair-minded and open-minded” and has advocated limits on farm payments.

The Organic Consumers Association was less gracious in its criticism, saying Vilsack has been too supportive of
industrial agriculture.

“Overall, he represents pretty much the same kind of business as usual
policies that we have seen through the Bush and Clinton
administrations,” said Ronnie Cummings, president of the Association, which petitioned Obama’s transition team to not pick
Vilsack. 

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