Home Commentary Commentary: Governor Holcomb and Indiana Corn Farmers Face a Kobayashi Maru

Commentary: Governor Holcomb and Indiana Corn Farmers Face a Kobayashi Maru


The Kobayashi Maru is a training exercise in the fictional Star Trek universe designed to test the character of Starfleet Academy cadets in a no-win scenario. Indiana Senate Bill 303 puts Indiana corn farmers in such a no-win scenario. The bill, passed this session by the Indiana General Assembly, would require a new label on all pumps that dispense e-15. That could potentially confuse motorists with a bunch of unnecessary warnings.  The bill now sits on the Governor’s desk waiting for him to sign or veto. For Holcomb, what makes this a no-win is that the ethanol industry wants him to veto the bill while some fuel retailers and the powerful ag lobby, including Indiana Farm Bureau, are urging him to sign it.

Indiana’s ethanol laws need to be updated. We still have laws on the books that referred to the fuel as “gasohol”.  The legislation started out to make the changes needed to bring Indiana up to the modern era and increase the sale of the renewable fuel with 15% blend of corn-based ethanol.  Along the way, amendments were added by lawmakers to protect consumers.  These uninformed legislators failed to understand that ethanol does not pose a danger to motorists and is not a source of concern by most drivers.

Motorists have been filling up with fuel made up of 10% ethanol for over a decade. The increase to a 15% blend, approved by the EPA, requires no change in their fueling habits and has been proven to pose no problem for nearly all cars on the road today.  Thus, the ethanol industry argues that a warning label is unnecessary since the EPA has already approved a label for use with the sale of e-15 fuel. Yet, the Indiana General Assembly, which often places politics above sense, refused to pass the bill without the new label requirement.

The Indiana ag lobby wants to see the bill signed into law, even though it is not to their liking.  The ethanol producers want the bill trashed and, perhaps, to try again next session. Meanwhile, Indiana corn farmers, heading to the field to plant another crop, are stuck in the middle.

Whatever the Governor decides, corn farmers will see an impact on the demand for corn in Indiana. Ethanol accounts for over 40% of the corn demand in our state.  Ethanol refiners say, if the bill becomes law, less ethanol will be needed. Fuel retailers say, without the bill, they will not be able to sell e-15, thus reducing the demand for ethanol.

Politically, the Governor is facing a Kobayashi Maru. Either way he alienates a key agricultural constituency. Signing the bill may be the politically expedient move. Yet, signing a bill you know is bad policy is never the right thing to do.

Lawmakers need to wake up to the fact that motorists are not worried about ethanol. Price is on their minds when they pull up to the pump; and e-15 will cost less. Consumers are also worried about the environment; and increasing the level of ethanol in our fuel supply will reduce greenhouse gasses and help combat climate change. Research has shown that, when these facts are presented to the public, they quickly become ethanol supporters.

In the Star Trek series, the only person to beat the Kobayashi Maru test was James T. Kirk. He did this by reprograming the computer to give him a third choice that was a win. Unfortunately, Governor Holcomb does not have this option and neither do Indiana corn famers. Both sides claim that, whether Senate Bill 303 is signed or vetoed, ethanol use in Indiana will be impacted. Indiana corn farmers will have to wait and see what happens and figure out how to “live long and prosper.”