Part 4 of the Madville Times' South Dakota State Fair Congressional Debate analysis
Question #3 at Sunday's debate put Tea Party sensibilities to the test, asking whether it's time to get rid of the ethanol subsidy. I can find Republicans and Democrats who would say yes to that question. None of them were on stage in Huron. Republican Kristi Noem said no; Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin said heck no!
Noem offered an interesting nuance: she said that since the industry doesn't agree on whether the subsidy should continue, the subsidy should continue. (Hmm... sounds just like her position on climate change: since not every scientist agrees on climate change, climate change should continue.) Noem did not explain whether it would take a simple majority, two-thirds, or complete consensus from industry players to get her to end the ethanol subsidy.
Noem did say that ethanol is important to national security. She said we must rely on ourselves for energy, promote blender pumps, and put infrastructure in place so everyone who wants to use ethanol can. Noem wants to encourage flex-fuel vehicles and make sure people have opporuntities to invest in ethanol. (If she's talking about doing that from a perch in Congress, she's a Republican advocating some pretty active government intervention in the market.)
Noem concluded by saying we need someone in Washington who understands how the ethanol industry works. She mentioned her own experience of making the tough decisions with her family at the dinner table to invest in an ethanol plant.
Herseth Sandlin didn't mention her dinner-table investment decisions, but she stated emphatically that we need to do all we can to retain and modify tax credits and extend the tariff. She said continuing support for ethanol is essential to keep the ethanol industry growing and providing jobs in our communities. Herseth Sandlin went so far as to say our investment in tax credits and extending the tariff save taxpayers money.
Beyond the ethanol subsidy, Herseth Sandlin said she has introduced legislation to provide investment tax credits for ethanol research and development. She said such credits would help Poet and other South Dakota companies and promote cellulosic ethanol.
Herseth Sandlin also took free shots at Noem and the GOP. She commended the bipartisan work of State Representative Mitch Fargen and State Senator Dave Knudson for using stimulus money to promote blender pumps (Kristi voted for that, too, but oh! slap! pow!). Herseth Sandlin concluded by noting that the ethanol subsidy is a whole lot better than a subsidy for the oil industry (smack!).
Assessment: Not much daylight between the candidates, but Noem loses points for failing to live up to Tea Party ideals to unshackle the Invisible Hand. Then again, since Tea Party funders the Koch brothers are getting into ethanol, Noem may be right on the expected faux-conservative talking points. Advantage Herseth Sandlin on philosophical consistency and free shots.
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