An editorial in today’s Washington Post hints at trouble on the horizon for ethanol. Ethanol has long been the product of Midwestern corn, Washington D.C. style pork, and a questionable environmental heritage, with the middle element of that troika propping up the enterprise. Now, however, the long-awaited “next generation” of ethanol, ethanol produced from grasses or other raw materials, may help take the enthanol-production business nationwide.
But if ethanol can be produced from Washington state wheat stalks or New England biomass or Lousiana sugar cane wastes, it is no longer a way to pander to corn-state politicians. The new technology threatens to undo the political calculus of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs that energizes pork-barrel politics. The question is, will the next generation of ethanol be good enough to succeed despite the forthcoming loss of political interest?