EDITORIAL: Playing the Washington game

Turning food to fuel costs the average family $2,000 a year

One of the unsavory secrets in Washington is that there’s usually a corporate or union donor behind a “public interest” advocacy group looking to advance a disguised agenda. VoteVets, which sounds like an advocacy group promoting the interests of veterans, is actually an organization in the service of the ethanol industry. VoteVets is trying to pressure Congress to reauthorize the Renewable Fuel Standard, the government mandate to put corn byproducts into the nation’s gasoline. The mandate helps agribusiness, but hurts families. It helps Wall Street investors, too.

One of them is Wesley K. Clark, the retired general. The Daily Caller reports that Mr. Clark sits on the board of directors of VoteVets, which is running a television-advertising campaign in Iowa and in Washington to pressure Congress to continue the government mandate for biofuels. The TV commercial features Michael Connolly, an Iraq War veteran, who argues that using oil to power America helps the nation’s enemies. Corn is green; oil is black. Corn is good; oil is not so good.

Mr. Clark is a mover, shaker and investor in the biofuels industry. He is the co-chairman of the ethanol trade group called Growth Energy. He left the Army with a distinguished name, and he has used it, as is his right, to influence Congress to support the Renewable Fuel Standard. Ethanol, he says, is a big success.

Mr. Clark is also a director of the biofuel company Rentech, the chairman and chief executive officer of Wesley K. Clark & Associates, a strategic consulting firm, and chairman of the investment bank Rodman & Renshaw. Mr. Clark co-founded Clean Terra, a firm dedicated to financing, developing and managing “clean energy/fuel projects.” That can make Mr. Clark and his associates sound too much like wolves of Wall Street; hence, the connection to VoteVets. That’s the way the Washington game is played.

Some environmentalists are beginning to question the Renewable Fuel Standard, which leads farmers and planters to shift their planting and harvesting food to feed man and beast to planting and harvesting food to meet the government fuels mandate. Corn that was grown to feed cattle is now used for fuel. Food prices are spiking. Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute has traced the connection between the fuel mandate and rising prices in the supermarket, and finds a direct connection. Since 2005, corn prices have more than tripled, and the price of pantry staples such as milk, eggs and meat have risen by as much as 68 percent. The higher demand for corn as fuel costs the average family nearly $2,000 a year, and that includes a lot of veterans. That’s no game, secret or otherwise.

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