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Blanco and/or Odom win on ethanol bill, Louisiana loses

When understanding why Gov. Kathleen Blanco does what she does in office, never forget that the need to accumulate power tops her list of motivations. She needs it to help her favored constituencies, and if she’s got some extra she might actually use it to benefit the state as a whole, but it all starts with power acquisition.

This helps to explain why she signed HB 685 and the way in which she did it. This bill mandates that state gasoline retailers, after a certain point, have two percent of their sales comprised on ethanol. Presently, this guarantees a price increase to Louisiana consumers.

Benefits from this bill politically for her could be less reliance on imported oil, maybe better environmental conditions through fewer hydrocarbon emissions, a bounty to agriculture producers and, just maybe in time for the 2007 elections, lower gas prices. This increases her standing among environmentalists, agricultural interests, and maybe even consumers.

But, as we know the lower prices are unlikely to occur within the next year, if ever, a price tag to the bill that would overwhelm any benefits in the minds of most voters. So, Blanco had to find a make it appear that she would be responsible for any benefits that come from the bill, but not for the costs.

The perfect opportunity presented itself with “making” Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom sign an unenforceable pledge that will have no effect on the law’s working that the law will not go into effect unless the price of gasoline with ethanol falls below that of pure gasoline. This gives Odom free reign to issue regulations governing a wide range of aspects concerning implementation of the law. But it also gives Blanco a chance, if as probable the ethanol-blend price remains above that of pure gasoline for the foreseeable future, to wash her hands of the consequences and shift any blame publicly to Odom.

Like Blanco, Odom also thinks primarily in power acquisition. This regime gives him more power but with the risk that he could be perceived as the one to blame if prices go up. They will, but Odom also is smart enough of a politician to be able to find a way to finesse the situation to his advantage, which is to subsidize agricultural interests that maintain him in office while not becoming enough of a lightning rod for consumer anger. In the way he’ll get the regulations written, he’ll find a way to implement the law by claiming prices are lower yet the objective, valid situation will be they are actually higher.

Blanco may end up making her political opponent Odom look bad, one reason why she made this deal. However, Odom may avoid that and could turn the tables on her by succeeding with it and increasing his power relative to hers, a reason for him to accept the deal. Most likely both could win, with Blanco taking all sorts of credit while Odom fools enough people on the pricing issue to aid his favored constituency, even as their power struggle continues without either gaining significant advantage on this issue over the other.

If that ends up the case, there’s another thing we can’t forget about politics in general – there are winners and losers in political conflict. If Blanco and Odom win that means, as so often has happened under the tutelage of these political hacks, Louisianans lose.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jeff--good commentary on the bad Ethanol deal--more manuipulation of the masses through governement involvement in the marketplace. BTW, there is an execellent piece on the Ethanol debate which ran in Business Week in April, by Ed Wallace, a reportrer for the Ft. Worth Telegram and KLIF 570 in Texas. This guy is on the mark, you should read it if you haven't already:

Brad Duhe