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Kerry outlines plan for energy, talks about GMO contamination of organic crops

(Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Bill Lambrecht, St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
SMITHVILLE, Mo. - Sen. John Kerry left his campaign train for a tour of corn country Friday to deliver a pitch for a farmer-friendly, $30 billion energy plan and for the votes of rural America.

On his third day in Missouri on his trip to the West, Kerry proposed doubling the amount of ethanol and farm-derived fuels required in gasoline as part of a broad energy proposal that he said can wean Americans off foreign oil.

In a discussion with farmers, the Democratic presidential nominee also promised to appoint an attorney general who would enforce antitrust laws in cases where corporate consolidation of agribusiness might be illegal.

And Kerry said he is considering an insurance program to protect organic farmers against losses if their crops intended for organic-only markets become dusted with wind-blown pollen from genetically modified crops.

"If your crop gets polluted by a GMO (genetically modified organism) crop, poof, you're gone," Kerry remarked while speaking on the farm of Jim and Ruth Nelson.

Kerry later said during an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he hadn't yet figured out how such an insurance program should work.

"I heard the number of farmers who said, 'Gee I'd like to go do this (grow organic crops), but I'm afraid because if I invest in the crop and it doesn't qualify as organic, I lose the entire deal.' So I thought of an insurance concept which says, 'OK, let's share the risk, share the burden' ... I don't think it will be that hard to pull off."

The farm event near Smithfield, 25 miles north of Kansas City, was tailor-made for TV with corn waving in a midday breeze and farmers perched on hay bales. Sounding populist themes, Kerry told the gathering that 60 percent of farm subsidies go to 10 percent of farmers.

"There's an awful lot of rural Missouri, Iowa and other states where small farmers are just getting clobbered. Do you know why? Sure you do. Because the big guys are getting all the money because the system is tilted against the small people," Kerry said.

In his ambitious energy plan, Kerry embraced proposals that would be of considerable benefit to the Midwest if they passed Congress, among them a federal requirement that 5 billion gallons of ethanol and other farm-based fuels be produced for gasoline by 2012.

Kerry said he also would seek to:

  • " Devote $10 billion to research aimed at enabling utilities to burn more high-sulfur coal, like that mined in Illinois, cleanly.
  • " Commit $10 billion to speed the production of autos powered by hydrogen fuel cells and give consumers $5,000 tax incentives to help them purchase cars using the technology.
  • " Spend as much as $10 billion over 10 years for a partnership between government, farmers and industry to develop an array of alternative fuels, as well as to create jobs in clean-energy technology.

Kerry's ethanol plan resembled provisions in a new energy bill that almost passed the Congress last year. But it derailed amid opposition both to more ethanol subsidies and a controversial proposal to give immunity to producers of MTBE, a gasoline additive found to pollute ground water.

The train that Kerry, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, and their families boarded at St. Louis Union Station on Thursday left Kansas City on Friday night for an all-night trip through Kansas en route to campaign events in southeastern Colorado today.

In response to Kerry's plan, Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., noted in a conference call with reporters Friday that neither Kerry nor Edwards were on hand in the Senate the day the energy bill failed by two votes.

"And now today, he (Kerry) is out saying he wants all these things, but when the votes were counted, he wasn't there and had he been there, he would have voted the wrong way ... Maybe it's campaign conversion," Nickles said.

Kerry could expect hurdles in Congress to another proposal -- extending to 2020 tax breaks for renewable fuels. Critics see those tax provisions, set to expire in 2007, as costly subsidies of dubious value that often enrich political donors.

Keith Ashdown, an analyst for Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based advocacy group, remarked that presidential candidates often try to outdo one another to promote ethanol because of the importance of the Midwestern vote.

"It makes good sense in the Electoral College, but unfortunately it doesn't make much sense in terms of achieving energy independence," he said.

Kerry noted that oil prices hit historic highs this week of $44 per barrel. He contended that somewhere between $8 and $15 of that can be attributed to global instability, which he blamed in part on the Bush administration's policies.

Kerry remarked that both he and Edwards had ordered the forthcoming 2005 Ford Escape hybrid, which conserves fuel by using an electric motor along with a gas-powered engine.

"You want to drive a great big SUV? Terrific. Terrific. That's America. But don't you think it's better to drive one that is more fuel-efficient and saves you money?" he said.