We're pleased that Sen. Charles Grassley represents Iowa so well when it comes to ferreting out misuses of tax-exempt status.
When Grassley questions how university athletics departments give out luxury box tickets in exchange for large "donations," and when he begins scrutinizing televangelists for how they use of the millions they rake in, he brings his Iowa common sense to bear on potential tax abuses...
But we were left scratching our heads recently when Grassley tried to defend ethanol from charges that the bio-fuel was contributing to rising food prices. In a conference call with reporters earlier this week, Grassley observed that if the rising cost of food prices can be blamed on the use of corn for ethanol, then it can also be blamed on the growth of meat consumption in China, which increases the use of grain for livestock feed.
Or, in the words of Iowa's senior senator, "If part of our problem is that the Chinese are going to eat meat and you've got to have corn and soybeans to feed the Chinese their meat, then why isn't it just as legitimate for the Chinese to go back and eat rice as it is for us to change our policy on corn to ethanol?"
With so many international groups -- including the World Bank -- criticizing the U.S. over its policy of converting corn and soybeans to biofuels, Grassley's comments are downright bizarre. They belittle legitimate concerns over how ethanol
*requires huge amounts of energy to produce,
*produces a number of hazardous byproducts,
*drives up the price for agricultural staples and
*changes land use in a way that could be harmful to the environment.
As committed as we are to seeing Iowa become a leader in the production of bio- and other alternative fuels, such unintended consequences should be acknowledged and addressed and not dismissed with a poor attempt to change the discussion.
Besides, if Grassley wants to invoke the growing consumption of pork as a possible explanation for growing world food prices, he only reinforces the international image of the U.S. as feeding its own cars and bellies at the expense of the rest of the world...