A couple of months ago, I wrote about the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol (here, also here.) On Friday, President Bush suggested that the tariff should be eliminated, or at least temporarily waived in order to ease the gasoline supply & price crunch which is expected for the summer.
Both the corn farmers and the sugar industry will oppose this initiative, and it’s unlikely that it will make it though Congress unless the administration does some very effective PR work.
Update: Today’s WSJ endorses the elimination of the tariff, and credits Congressman John Shadegg (Arizona) for pushing this idea. (Shadegg’s specific proposal is to suspend the tariff until 2007.)
Ethanol policy also needs to consider impact on the transportation network. Ethanol cannot be shipped via conventional pipelines (a fact which has received little media attention until very recently) and has to go by rail or barge if long distances are involved. Major railroad bottlenecks seem likely, given that some of the routes needed for domestic ethanol are already heavily used for coal and grain. The Union Pacific has already slowed down shipments of ethanol to the DFW area due to heavy congestion in its rail terminal there.
Imported ethanol might help the overall transportation-capacity situation to some extent, since it can come directly into major east and west coast ports, but isn’t going to help with bottlenecks at blending facilities.