Credit Where It’s Due: Tim Pawlenty Says We Must “Phase Out” Energy Subsidies

(UPDATED: See below.).

I’ve had a good bit of fun jumping on the Republican Party for its hypocrisy on energy subsidies.  So when a Republican does the right thing, it’s important to acknowledge it:

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made a potentially risky move during his campaign launch speech in Iowa: he called for a phaseout of ethanol subsidies.

“The hard truth is that there are no longer any sacred programs,” said Pawlenty. “The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out. We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly. But we need to do it.”

Good for T-Paw.  Why would he do this?  One could always argue that he is doing it because he believes in it, but allow me to express some skepticism.  This is a candidate who set new lows in abject groveling for his flip-flop on climate change.

My initial take is that, with Mike Huckabee out of the race, Pawlenty knows that either Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin is going to run, and if either or both of them runs, then the Iowa caucus, which is dominated by evangelicals, will go to either of them.  So he figures he will take his lumps on it, but will enhance his nationwide reputation as a “tough, sober” leader.  Given growing GOP anxiety over the poor quality of its Presidential candidates, this is a well-timed move.  In other words, his intended audience here isn’t Iowans: it is David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer and money people out east.

Question: Governor Pawlenty, were the Senate Republicans wrong to filibuster the Democratic phase-out of subsidies for the largest oil companies?  Yes or no?

Note also that Pawlenty has an out here: corn is heavily subsidized, but not simply for energy purposes.  It’s a straightforward farm price support for a product that dominates much of American food.  So a Pawlenty Administration could quite easily make a big deal out of ending “energy subsidies,” and then give back to corn farmers what it has just taken away.

But I’m old enough that I don’t judge proposals based upon what kind of a person a politician is.  I will very happily take the right policy for the wrong reason.

Oh, and by the way: Secretary (and former Iowa Governor) Vilsack, what’s the administration’s position on this?  Hello?

UPDATE: See?  I try to be fair and balanced, but Republicans just won’t let me.  Turns out that just a few weeks ago, Pawlenty said that cutting oil and gas subsidies would be “ludicrous.”  Is he a hypocrite, or does he just believe in socialism for the rich?  I report, you decide.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

6 thoughts on “Credit Where It’s Due: Tim Pawlenty Says We Must “Phase Out” Energy Subsidies”

  1. “But I’m old enough that I don’t judge proposals based upon what kind of a person a politician is. I will very happily take the right policy for the wrong reason.”

    If there’s one thing that the Bush administration invasion of Afghanistan made perfectly clear, it’s that this sentiment is wrong. The wrong politician doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is very likely to so totally fuck up the right thing that it becomes the wrong thing. Note also the “progressives” who get suckered in by Ron Paul on his anti-war speech and ignore that he’s a stone cold racist and economic crank who’s anti-war only because he’s an isolationist crank as well.

  2. @R. Johnston —

    He didn’t say he was going to vote for the guy. He’s merely accepting that Pawlenty made one (1) good call, and that he’ll take that tiny bit of right-ness with regard to policy as right-ness. We all know that people who do the right thing for the wrong reason are probably going to follow up with something stupid, which is why Zasloff mentioned “wrong reasons” in the first place.

  3. We must be reading from different scripts. Pawlenty did NOT say he’d phase out energy subsidies. What he said was that all subsidies must end some day, including ethanol. Singling out ethanol points to agricultural subsidies, not energy ones. Don’t hold your breath waiting for T-Paw to back energy subsidy cutbacks.

  4. While we do need to end subsidies for ethanol and petroleum products, there is a problem with doing this. Alternative energy sources (corn ethanol is not a good one) cannot compete with petroleum products and coal because of the indirect subsidies and externalities in those markets. The direct subsidies (e.g. for biodiesel) at least allow those products to enter the market place. So, ending the subsidies just leaves us addicted to petroleum products, unless a tax to account for the externalities of the oil complex (carbon, military intervention, etc.) can be levied, which is politically impossible.

  5. Watch as pawlenty proposes cutting subsidies for weatherization, solar and wind, and moving the ethanol subsidy to some other part of the corn-distilling process.

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