Mitch McConnell’s algae problem

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters following the weekly policy lunch of the Republican caucus on Nov. 19, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters following the weekly policy lunch of the Republican caucus on Nov. 19, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty
Two years ago this month, President Obama spoke in Miami about energy policy, touting his “all-of-the-above” agenda, and outlining a comprehensive vision. Towards the end of the speech, he mentioned, “We’re making new investments in the development of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel that’s actually made from a plant-like substance – algae.”
 
At the time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pounced, acting as if the president’s comment was the height of ridiculousness. “I think the American people realize that a president who’s out there talking about algae when they’re having to choose between whether to buy groceries or to fill up the tank is the one who’s out of touch,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. He added, “As millions of Americans groaned at the rising cost of a gallon of gasoline, the president took algae as a substitute for gas.”
 
Even at the time, the line of attack seemed pretty strange. A variety of conservative Republicans – Darrell Issa, Mike Pence, Mike Johanns, et al – have not only supported federally-funded algae research, they even asked the Obama administration to increase support for the projects. Why would McConnell condemn energy research his own party supports?
 
Today, Louisville’s Courier-Journal report makes McConnell’s position even more untenable.
[In 2007], McConnell himself worked to obtain a $30 million grant for a company that wanted to build a plant in Springfield, Ky., to turn algae, switchgrass, corn cobs and other such materials into ethanol – a plant that ultimately was never built and a grant that was never spent.
 
And each time McConnell interceded on behalf of the Nicholasville-based company Alltech or the federal government took action to help, its founder and president wrote a check to McConnell’s campaign or the Republican Party of Kentucky.
Oops.
 
There are two main questions here, which are worth considering separately.
 
The first is why in the world McConnell went after Obama for supporting energy research that McConnell himself had already endorsed. Asked for an explanation, McConnell’s Senate spokesperson told the Courier-Journal that the Minority Leader “has long supported algae as part of an all-of-the-above approach to energy production,” but mocked Obama because the president’s speech focused “solely on algae and other alternative forms of energy.”
 
For those who cannot read, see, or hear, this defense may seem persuasive. For everyone else, it’s gibberish – the transcript of Obama’s speech is online and it clearly was not focused “solely on algae and other alternative forms of energy.” Why the senator’s office would make such a brazenly false claim on the record is unclear.
 
The second question is why Alltech seemed to write campaign checks so soon after McConnell tried to get grants for the company.
 
Richard Beliles, the chairman of Common Cause Kentucky, told the Courier-Journal that the timing of the contributions to McConnell seem “a little bit too coincidental.” And Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said “any objective observer would note the connection, the time-line and question whether these actions are related.”
 

Energy, Energy Policy and Mitch McConnell

Mitch McConnell's algae problem