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Pawlenty on ethanol subsidies: Changes OK, but can’t ‘pull the rug out’ from under industry

“We can’t just pull the rug out from under the industry,” he said Wednesday in defending ethanol subsidies.

WASHINGTON — Tim Pawlenty said Wednesday that he’s open to changes in ethanol subsidies, but cautioned any change must be undertaken carefully.

“We can’t just pull the rug out from under the industry,” he said, according to a report on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s website. “There are going to have to be some changes, but we have to be fair-minded about it.”

Among the prospective GOP field, Pawlenty has been seen as among those more sympathetic to ethanol producers. When governor of Minnesota, Pawlenty signed legislation attempting to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline, and supported expansion of E-85 fueling stations. 

Pawlenty was speaking to a group in Collinsville, Illinois, in the southern tip of the state near St. Louis. Ethanol there, like in Iowa, is big business. However, more libertarian voters in the Republican Party — especially in New Hampshire — have criticized prospective candidates like Pawlenty for supporting ethanol subsidies, which they view as government handouts.

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Pawlenty on the campaign trail has backed an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, including additional oil drilling in the U.S. When asked about ethanol in March in New Hampshire, Pawlenty said government has a role to play in research and development, but that permanent solutions must be self sufficient.

The former Minnesota governor has frequently used the occasion to hit out at President Obama, accusing him of stalling on or not moving quickly enough on additional drilling projects. Those attacks have increased in frequency as the price of gasoline has risen.

“This is a country that needs to get much more serious about Americanizing our energy sources and doing everything we can to develop our own energy here and add more supply,” he said in an interview earlier this week with a Chicago radio station.