March 25, 2007


Jeb Bush encouraged brother to pursue ethanol (DAVID ADAMS, March 5, 2007, St. Petersburg Times)

For years, Brazil tried in vain to persuade U.S. officials of the merits of ethanol, which had made the largest country in South America virtually energy self-sufficient.

"The price of oil for a long time didn't compel," said Donna Hrinak, U.S. ambassador to Brazil from 2002 to 2004. She recalls Brazil raising the issue in 2003. "Our response was 'We are working on the hydrogen car. We are happy with that and we'll see you later.' "

That began to change with the emergence since 1999 of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who is using his country's vast petroleum reserves to undermine U.S. influence in the region.

Bush got a taste of that firsthand in November 2005 when he attended a regional summit in Argentina that was marred by anti-U.S. riots stoked by Chavez.

On his way back from the summit, Bush stopped in Brazil, where he got a much warmer reception. Lula invited him to his country home, known as Crooked Creek Ranch, for a relaxed barbecue.

"It was a very good, cordial meeting, lots of smiles and a warm atmosphere," said John Danilovich, U.S. ambassador to Brazil from 2004 to 2006, who was present. "There's a real rapport between the two men."

A leftist former union leader, Lula might not seem Bush's natural ally. But he is big on biofuels. He keeps a display in his office of feedstock samples and the fuels they produce. Bush and Lula have grown so close that they regularly speak by phone, often outside office hours.

At the barbecue, Lula asked his agriculture minister, Roberto Rodrigues, to make the case for biofuels to the Americans.

Rodrigues spoke for an hour.

"How is it that humanity built a civilization upon fossil fuels, a finite substance that is poorly distributed around the world?" he said. "It makes no sense when we have a renewable liquid that can be produced by almost any country."

The Americans listened intently, he said. "President Bush had lots of questions. So did Secretary Condoleezza Rice."

Bush returned to Washington "all charged up" on Brazilian biofuels, recalls Allan Hubbard, the president's chief economic adviser.

"When he got back he grabbed me and said 'Hubbard, what about this, what they are doing with ethanol down in Brazil?' " he said.

White House staff had already done some work on biofuels, but nothing had gone as far as the president's desk.

"We've been working on it for a while. We didn't actually start presenting it to the president until after the (November 2006) election," Hubbard said.

In the meantime the president received a letter from his brother in Tallahassee. Florida had taken a beating from the 2005 hurricane season, sending gas prices soaring. The governor's contacts in Miami were touting Brazil as a model for energy independence.

Jeb Bush wrote to his brother in April, urging the president to implement "a comprehensive ethanol strategy for our country and our hemisphere."

Rather than buy oil from hostile nations such as Venezuela, which supplies about 12 percent of U.S. petroleum needs, Jeb Bush said the United States ought to buy biofuels from friendly countries such as Brazil and Colombia, as well as Central America and the Caribbean.

Jeb Bush was already deep in talks with the Brazilian ethanol industry about a joint partnership. In December, two weeks before leaving office, he co-founded the Interamerican Ethanol Commission to promote regional production. Rodrigues, who gave President Bush the biofuels lecture, was a co-signer.

In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush surprised many by setting a goal of 35-billion gallons of annual biofuels consumption by 2017, a sevenfold leap from current capacity. While the United States hopes to achieve most of that processing domestic corn and other plant material, Bush said imports would also be required.

Since January, Bush has been on a tear, visiting biofuels labs in North Carolina and Delaware. He hosted a hybrid car demonstration at the White House.

Last week, Bush led a panel of biofuels scientists at a leading enzymes company. Bush chatted knowledgeably about the science of ethanol and new technology to make it from nonfood crops.

"I am passionate about this subject," he told the audience.

That combination of reduced dependence on the petro-states and cementing the Axis of Good is tough to resist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 25, 2007 1:36 PM

I'd be surprised if ethanol had made Brazil fully self-sufficient. And is that even a good thing? Isn't it better to pay for something that comes from overseas if it's cheaper than making your own?

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at March 25, 2007 2:50 PM

Ali, what a question for a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon in paradise.

Posted by: erp at March 25, 2007 2:53 PM

The guy who makes fun of the Brazilian aircraft industry wants us to emulate the Brazilian energy policy. Okay, whatever.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 25, 2007 4:13 PM

Farming ain't aerospace.

Posted by: oj at March 25, 2007 7:10 PM

Ethanol didn't make Brazil energy self sufficient, a recent off shore oil discovery did.

Posted by: Pre at March 25, 2007 7:24 PM

If Embraer started expanding into agriculture, OJ would suddenly go all Cassandra on us.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 25, 2007 8:05 PM

I am passionate about this subject.

Exodus III:2

Problem is, Jeb, to what extent will America's Oil Lobby resent this intrusion on their "pursuit of happiness."

(Yup. We is compromised.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 26, 2007 3:13 AM

"Rather than buy oil from hostile nations such as Venezuela, which supplies about 12 percent of U.S. petroleum needs, Jeb Bush said the United States ought to buy biofuels from friendly countries such as Brazil and Colombia, as well as Central America and the Caribbean."

Sounds like a no brainer to me! And .. Brazil can make it cheaper than us Ali ... at least for now.

Posted by: Genecis at March 26, 2007 6:22 AM

Embraer could do the same thing in faring that they do with planes, simply ape us, and be successful. Just don't look to uncreative societies for innovation.

Posted by: oj at March 26, 2007 6:28 AM

Ethanol subsidies are simply awful from a policy perspective.

Just hike the gas tax (replacing/lowering other taxes accordingly) and the problems will fix themselves).

Spare me the crocodile tears for oil. They've been subsidized out the wazoo for eons. You see the evidence of such every time you pull onto a road.

Posted by: Bruno at March 26, 2007 7:59 AM

You see the evidence of such every time you pull onto a road.

So these alcohol fueled cars are going fly to their destinations? ('Bout time, as I was promised my Jetson's flying car decades ago...)

And if roads are a "subsidy" when paid by auto and fuel based taxes, then what does that make biketrails and trolley lines paid from the same taxes?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 26, 2007 12:21 PM