"Most of us, especially as Republicans, object to mandates from the federal government," Mourdock said during the debate. "And yet suddenly we saw more ethanol being mandated into our gasoline."
The federal government gave gas refiners a subsidy to add ethanol to their product, but that policy was phased out at the start of 2012. Instead, the federal government now mandates only that the industry add some sort of alternative fuel, which often means ethanol derived from corn.
Just a few years ago, Mourdock's stance would have been heresy for a candidate in a farm state. Even though the state actually farms more acres of soybeans these days, corn has long been integral to Indiana's self-image. Gov. Mitch Daniels and both the leading Democratic and Republican candidates for governor are generally supportive of ethanol. Lugar, himself a farmer, has long taken the stance that what's good for corn is good for the state.
"It's a Hoosier product, with Hoosiers producing it on farms here," Lugar replied to Mourdock with near exasperation during the debate.
But that argument has less and less support from Republicans these days. Politicians like Rick Santorum -- who told Iowans he would end ethanol subsidies and then went on to win the state -- are finding that opposing industry subsidies is less of a liability. The industry, meanwhile, believes it is finally becoming competitive on its own terms.
Mourdock, who has been endorsed by the Tea Party Express, outlines his stance as a matter of conservative principle.
That plays well with primary voters, said Gary Welsh, a Republican lawyer in Indianapolis who blogs about state politics, and who grew up growing corn and soybean crops. "Mourdock is pretty pure on those issues, and he's consistent -- even if some people may not like that view."
Plus, Welsh added, farmers are hardly monolistic in their views on ethanol. "To the extent that you're creating a demand converting food to fuel use, you're driving up food prices too, so there's that flip-side," he said. "For livestock farmers, that means their cost of feeding livestock goes up." . . .The Star's Mary Beth Schneider also blogged today about the ethanol industry going on the attack against Mourdock for the position he took in last night's debate on their sacred product.
The Indiana Ethanol Producers Association took umbrage. Mourdock’s comments, they said in a release, “does a disservice to the over 3,500 Hoosier jobs dependent upon the state’s growing ethanol industry and does nothing to reduce the price at the pump.”
The association argued that ethanol brings down the price of gas, calling it “simple math” as something less expensive replaces the more expensive oil.
“In fact, a recent study by the Indiana Corn Marketing Council found that ethanol resulted in savings to consumers of over $40 million in 2011,” the associated stated.
Thursday morning, a Washington-based group that represents ethanol producers, Growth Energy, also disputed Mourdock.
Tom Buis, the group’s CEO, said in a statement that: “I don’t know where Mr. Mourdock is getting his facts but he’s been fed misinformation. In fact, he’s got the facts backward. Ethanol actually keeps gas prices down at the pump instead of raising them.”
Thursday, Mourdock stood by his statements and said that among other things ethanol reduces the gas mileage, costing people more to operate their cars.Schneider astutely picks up on the fact that Lugar has strong personal ties to the ethanol association's leader:
Of course, some would argue this may be as much about politics as it is about ethanol. The executive director of the Indiana Ethanol Producers is Anne Hathaway, a former chief of staff to the Republican National Committee who is active in the Richard Lugar Excellence in Public Service group that gets women involved in GOP politics.
She’s backing Lugar, and so is the ethanol association. In its release, the association said Mourdock’s statements reflected a “lack of knowledge” about the industry and that “Indiana deserves serious leadership.” Lugar, the release noted, is a farmer and “steadfast supporter” of the ethanol industry.