Crank of the Week - May 4, 2009 - Wesley Clark

After a brief, failed career as a politician, retired US General Wesley Clark has finally sunk to the lowest level of American political life: he has become a lobbyist for the ethanol business. He recently appeared on evening news programs decrying the change in public sentiment away from global warming and, in particular, ethanol biofuel. “Public consensus is wrong.” said Clark, blaming the shift in public opinion on propaganda from global warming deniers.

General Clark commanded Operation Allied Force in the Kosovo War during his term as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO from 1997 to 2000. After retiering from the Army, Clark joined the 2004 race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination but withdrew from the primary race after winning only one state primary, in Oklahoma. Since then he has formed his own political action committee—WesPAK: Securing America—and now has become the public mouthpiece for the ethanol lobby.

As font man for the recently formed industry advocacy group, Growth Energy, Clark is ethanol's newest public advocate—and the ethanol business can certainly use all the help they can get right now. With reports from the EU and UN stating that biofuels are a bad deal all around and recent actions by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), ethanol's back is against the wall. California is expected to adopt a new carbon standard that takes into account the indirect use of land in producing fuel. That boosts the greenhouse gases attributed to corn ethanol, turning it from a green alternative to a net polluter. Other states are expected to follow California's lead.

Meanwhile, across the Midwestern corn belt, biofuel plants are hemorrhaging money. Many distilleries stand idle or half-built, the victims of depressed energy prices and an avalanche of new scientific reports that have shown biofuels made from agricultural crops to be worse greenhouse gas polluters than burning oil. Volatile commodity prices "caught ethanol plants mostly with their pants down," noted Rick Kment, biofuels analyst at research firm DTN.

Leaning on his military credentials, Clark has been stressing ethanol's potential for reducing dependence on energy from the Mideast. "It is a national-security issue," he said in an interview. "That's why I'm in it." Funny, lobbyist are usually in it for the money. What is the general's proposed solution?

“It's a Washington problem,” Clark said. Unsurprisingly, he's got a Washington solution: Push the present 10% limit on ethanol in gasoline blends to 15%. This ignores the fact that most current and older model cars aren't designed for ethanol concentrations above 10% and can be damaged by using such a fuel blend. Groups opposing this scheme include, among others, the Sierra Club, National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Friends of the Earth, and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers.

“The devil is always in the details, but we're pleased that the EPA proposed rules that would require all global warming pollution from biofuels to be taken into account,” said Kate McMahon of Friends of the Earth. Add the recently raised pollution concerns and public complaints about rising food prices and this proposal is dead on arrival. Looks like this is a battle that General Clark is going to lose.

While Clark was perfectly happy to pimp for the “consensus” when it was backing global warming, now he claims consensus is wrong about ethanol. Seems things change when his ox is being gored. The public consensus has shifted because, over time, scientific investigations have revealed the facts about ethanol and GHG emissions, not because the public has been duped by global warming deniers. Sorry General, your the one who's wrong—but here is a big shiny Crank of the Week award to console yourself with.