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‘We’re not robbing food from people’s mouths’

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Story Transcript

Brownville, Nebaska

REPORTER: Driving through mile upon mile on these flat cornfields, you get a sense of how important corn is to the heartlands of America. Everywhere you look, it’s just corn, corn, corn. We’re meeting here Corky Jones. He’s a Nebraska farmer, and he’s a corn grower and a member of the Corn Growers Association. He’s going to tell us all about growing corn to be turned into ethanol.

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CORKY JONES, FARMER: I’ve been a big supporter, personally, a big supporter of ethanol alternate energy clear back in the late ’70s.

REPORTER: What has it done to the price of your corn?

JONES: Up until this last couple of weeks, when we saw the economy really dive.

REPORTER: Yeah.

JONES: But it brought the price up. We went from corn below $2 a bushel to corn over $5 a bushel.

REPORTER: There is this groundswell of opposition to ethanol you’re hearing, and it’s getting louder. And it’s not just in America; it’s all around the world.

JONES: All the bad things about ethanol that you’re hearing come from the oil companies themselves. They don’t want to give up 10 percent, they don’t want to give up one gallon of their product, because that’s dipping into their business.

REPORTER: I mean, the other big thing, obviously, is whether ethanol is environmentally as good as people make it out to be. And the other thing that’s [inaudible] so interested to hear your view about is the price of corn has really hit poor people in those areas where they’re dependent on it.

JONES: Let’s think about that. The people that are starving, Africa, wherever, it’s because of policy, not the price. They don’t have television either. They don’t have transportation. They don’t have anything. It’s the lack of education, lack of the facilities, dictatorship-type of government, not because corn is too high-priced.

REPORTER: So do you feel picked upon? Do you feel scapegoated by that?

JONES: Yes.

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REPORTER: One thing that really jumped out at me is that those environmentalists who say ethanol is not the solution to global warming and emissions, actually, their whole argument is coming from the oil industry. Secondly, that he sees himself as a bit of a victim. He’s a scapegoat of people criticizing corn farmers who are sort of farming the heartland of America for causing world starvation and rising food prices and all the rest of it. So if you’re wondering how you get a kernel of corn and turn it into something that moves your car, this is how you do it. This is one of the ethanol plants that are being built. And we’re going to go and talk to the manager about (A) how they turn the stuff into petrol or fuel and (B) how they’re getting on in this current economic climate.

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ROGER HILL, GENERAL MANAGER, GOLDEN TRIANGLE ETHANOL PLANT: This is my 30th year in the business, and I’ve seen it go boom and bust about three times. You know, if people think maybe that the oil companies are our friends, well, we’re not. They’re our competitors. And we’re forced to sell our product to our competitor. They have had a real good smear campaign going on for the last six or eight months, and twisted things around to make it sound like that the ethanol people are robbing the food out of people’s mouths.

REPORTER: Right. And you think [inaudible] coming from the oil companies.

HILL: Oh, I know it is. It was tracked back to them. So, I mean, that’s a known fact. But, anyway, it doesn’t really matter, because they have so much money that they can twist public opinion.

REPORTER: In terms of politics, that’s why we’re here—for the election. There’s quite a difference between Obama and McCain: Obama has been a supporter of ethanol; McCain has argued for subsidies to be removed and Brazilian sugar-based ethanols allowed in the country. Do you have a view on that?

HILL: I’m here to tell you I’m a Republican, okay?

REPORTER: Okay.

HILL: [inaudible] programs that Obama has come up with are attractive to everybody. What McCain is saying is—I just throw my hands up and say, "John, why have you got this stance?" And I’m just hoping that his advisors will take him [inaudible] and say, "Look, we need this industry to survive." Over 60 percent of all the fuel in America comes from outside of our country.

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REPORTER: Our tour of the plant was interesting, I thought, because he too, like the farmer we saw, blamed all criticism of ethanol from an environmental perspective on the oil companies. So that’s clearly the way that people who are involved in the industry dismiss any criticism of their product. We’ve heard from a farmer. We’ve heard from the ethanol plant manager. So an important other voice we want is the environmentalist’s. We’re going to go and speak to Carl Pope. He’s head of the Sierra Club, which is the most powerful grassroots environmental organization in America. And we’re going to ask him what he thinks about ethanol, and we’re going to ask him how he sees Obama in that light. It’s an interesting question because Obama is in a difficult territory over ethanol as someone who supports it, and yet most of the environmental movement have by now openly broken away from ethanol.

CARL POPE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE SIERRA CLUB: We now understand, I think, that it was a much bigger mistake than we thought, because for whatever strange reason, the people who were supposed to be keeping track of world supply, demand for food didn’t keep very good track. We did not anticipate, frankly, that it would have the kind of impact it’s had on world food prices, and it’s been, I think, a very sobering moment for all of us.

REPORTER: I mean, firstly, on Obama and the Sierra Club, does the Sierra Club endorse or take a position?

POPE: Yes. We endorse Senator Obama for president.

REPORTER: Can you tell us, first of all, in the overview, in the round, why you’ve endorsed Obama?

POPE: Fundamentally, we’ve endorsed Senator Obama because he gets the future and Senator McCain is mired in the past. And I think Senator Obama, once he’s elected president, will do the learning that’s required. So I don’t defend his present stance on ethanol, and I think it’s a poor predictor of how he would handle the issue as president.

REPORTER: Is there a danger that there’s a huge expectation surrounding his presidency?

POPE: We are not electing the Archbishop of Canterbury or a saint. We’re electing an American politician. Is he susceptible to pressure? He damn well should be. This is a democratic society. Do I worry that he’s going to cave massively in response to special interests? No, I don’t. We’re not going to go away when he’s elected. We and other forces that are supporting him are going to stay organized. And as he told the environmental community when he met with us, we’re going to have to keep his feet to the fire.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.