As Democrats Hedge on Fossil Fuel Subsidies, Biden Misleads on Plan

By: Steve Horn | August 24, 2020

Welcome back to TRNN’s Climate Crisis News Roundup. 

We are in the dog days of summer, with record heat waves and extreme weather events happening throughout the United States and the world. Meanwhile, one of the global oil majors has a professed climate solution: powering its oil drilling with wind and solar energy across the world and the Democrats deleted policy platform language to end fossil fuel subsidies. 

If you have a story you think deserves a spot in the roundup or story pitches in general, get in touch with me at [email protected] or on Twitter at @SteveAHorn. You can read the previous edition here.

DNC, Biden Fossil Fuel Subsidies

On August 17, the first day of its convention, the Democratic National Committee struck a clause in its policy platform calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. The decision, unsurprisingly, has drawn a strong rebuke from climate justice advocates. 

First reported by HuffPost, the language initially added into the document on July 27 read “Democrats support eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels, and will fight to defend and extend tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy.”

In a statement provided to the publication, a DNC official said the language had been “incorrectly included” and “after the error was discovered” it was removed. 

“This is a commonsense position held by both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Collin Rees, senior campaigner for the group Oil Change International told HuffPost. “The DNC should immediately include it in the platform.”

A lesser covered aspect of that story is how language about enhanced oil recovery and carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS) never made it into the platform and did not get a debate. CCUS means capturing carbon at power plants and utilizing that carbon for, predominantly these days, oil drilling via a method called “flooding.” It is a way to extract oil out of the ground in reservoirs which have already run dry after conventional drilling transpires, extending the lifeline of oil wells. The captured carbon is shipped via CO2 pipelines to those oil fields. 

 

That reneged proposal, brought forward by John Laesch, an Aurora, Illinois-based member of the DNC Platform Committee, reads “Democrats believe the tax code must reflect our commitment to a clean energy future by eliminating special tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies, including any tax subsidies for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), carbon capture and storage (CCS) or direct air capture (DAC).” But Laesch, a Sanders backer, says the language was dropped without it ever getting a vote or consideration from the committee. 

“Even though I did not drop my amendments, someone made the decision to break DNC rules and just dropped the amendments anyway,” Laesch, who works full time as a carpenter and is a member of the Carpenters Local 174, explained it in an August 5 blog post. “Apparently other platform members had accepted speaking opportunities in exchange for dropping their amendments.”

In an interview, Laesch said he intended to see the amendment through to a “moral defeat,” but was not granted that chance.

For its part in response, the Biden campaign claims it supports an end to fossil fuel subsidies.Policy director Stef Feldman tweeted that Biden “continues to be committed to ending U.S. fossil fuel subsidies & then rallying the rest of the world to do the same—as was outlined in his climate plan last year.”

Yet, his plan says he will “double down on federal investments and enhance tax incentives for CCUS.”. Further, a system of tax subsidies already exists for CCUS, giving companies $35/ton for CO2 who use it for enhanced oil recovery and $50/tons for those who permanently sequester it. 

Laesch closed his account of platform negotiations by saying he wants Democrats to “be the party of climate scientists, not oil profiteers.”

For more on this story, see TRNN climate correspondent Aman Ahzar’s piece published on August 21.

California on Fire 

California is on fire, a worst case nightmare scenario in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic still tearing through the United States, which has surpassed the 175,000 deaths tally

There are currently 367 fires happening at once in California with 27 of them considered major. The fires are the result of a combination of weeks-long heat wave, bone dry chaparral after a months-long drought and high wind speeds. California’s Death Valley National Park recorded the hottest recorded temperature in the history of the Earth at 130°F. Some of the fires were caused by 11,000 lightning strikes. Lightning bolts also ignited one of Arizona’s record-size wildfires this past June. 

Two people have died so far in California and over 30,000 structures are threatened. The heat of the fires is so intense that it has burned and destroyed fire monitoring cameras.

 

One of the fires was turned into a fire tornado. The largest of the fires is over 137,000 acres in size as of August 21, erupting in the late-night hours of August 19. The most severe fires have erupted in Northern and Central California, over 350,000 acres in size. For perspective, that’s the combined size of New York City and Chicago both on fire in their entirety at the same time.

But Southern California has not been spared either. The Dome Fire burned over 43,000 acres, bigger than the size of Miami, burning down iconic Joshua Trees—an endangered species due to climate change to begin with.

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on August 18, allowing firefighters from outside the state and the National Guard to assist in fire suppression efforts. 

“We’re putting everything we have on these fires,” Newsom said at a press conference announcing the emergency order. “We’re now getting support from across the western U.S. and for that we’re grateful.”

The state is “stretched thin” on its ability to fight all of the fires with its current firefighting force, a spokesman for CAL FIRE told the Associated Press. Much of that workforce consists of incarcerated individuals serving in the state’s Conservation Camps Program. 

But with the pandemic having a disproportionate impact on state prisoners for cases and deaths, and thousands of prisoners getting early-release due to prison reform laws coming into effect or getting it due to COVID-19 overcrowding concerns, the state has had to look elsewhere for people to stave off the hell fires. 

The intense smoke could also contribute to higher COVID-19 case loads, according to recent studies by researchers at the U.S. National Forest Service and University of Birmingham (UK). On August 20, the air quality from the smoke in the San Francisco Bay Area was the worst in the entire world. The severe smoke has engulfed much of the northern and central portions of the state. 

CAL FIRE issued a stern warning for all Golden State residents: “My recommendation is that all the citizens in California be ready to go if there is a wildfire. Residents have to have their bags packed up with your nose facing out your driveway so you can leave quickly. Everybody should be ready to go, especially if you’re in a wildfire area.”

Solar, Wind Power Oil Drilling

Weeks after landing a permit from California to fuel one of its biggest oil fields with solar panels, Chevron announced it has gone global with its plan to fuel its oil operations with renewable energy.

The California-based global oil major announced a partnership on July 30 with the renewable energy company Algonquin Power to set up solar- and wind-powered oil extraction in countries ranging from Argentina, Kazakhstan, Australia, and in the biggest fracking field in the United States: the Texas- and New Mexico-based Permian Basin. The company has cited the partnership as a key component of its global sustainability plans. 

“Chevron intends to lead in the future of energy by developing affordable, reliable and ever-cleaner energy,” Allen Satterwhite, President of Chevron Pipeline & Power said in a  company press release. “This agreement advances Chevron’s commitment to lower our carbon footprint by investing in renewable power solutions that are reliable, scalable, cost efficient, and directly support our core business.”

In the company’s quarterly August 1 investor call, CFO Pierre Breber called the deal between the companies “way to scale up what we’ve been doing previously.” He added that “We intend to be in business a long time” as a means to “reduce the carbon intensity of our products,” translated as generating less greenhouse gases from the drilling process itself, usually powered by other fossil fuels such as diesel or natural gas

But Danielle Fugere, president of the shareholder advocacy group As You Sow, said powering oil drilling with solar isnot enough, calling it a form of“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the margins, while continuing business as usual,” she told the New Mexico-based Carlsbad Current Argus.

In the Algonquin’s quarterly investor call held on August 14, CEO Arun Banskota said the company will likely do its first project in the Permian Basin. Chevron is one of the top drillers in the Permian, with its operations growing in the recent year and a half with the acquisition of other major fracking companies, Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy

Chevron’s fellow fracking company in the Permian, fellow global oil giant ExxonMobil, is also active in renewable energy-powered drilling in the Permian. In November 2018, the company signed a renewable energy contract with the Danish company Ørsted to build both a 3,560 acres in size and with 1.3 million solar panels, as well as a wind farm to power drilling in the region. The wind farm got $22.56 million in tax incentives

“The Sage Draw wind farm, which straddles Lynn and Garza counties, can power 120,000 typical American homes, but most of the electricity won’t go to the surrounding farms and towns. Instead, the biggest customer will be ExxonMobil,” wrote EnergyWire reporter Mike Lee in a story published in July.

The research firm IHS Markit calculated in a July analysis that 45 oil and gas projects nationwide are powered by renewable energy..

Oil Change International’s Rees denounced these projects as a “deadly distraction.”

“This is a greenwash, while oil and gas expansion keeps hurting frontline communities and wrecking the climate,” he said. “Powering fossil fuel extraction with renewable sources isn’t a ‘climate solution’ of any sort — it’s a death sentence for the planet.”

Related Bios

Steve Horn

Steve Horn is a San Diego-based climate reporter and producer. He was also a reporter on a part-time basis for The Coast News—covering Escondido, San Marcos, and the San Diego North County region—from mid-2018 until early 2020. Also a freelance investigative reporter, his work has appeared in The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, The Intercept, Vice…

Steve Horn

Steve Horn is a San Diego-based climate reporter and producer. He was also a reporter on a part-time basis for The Coast News—covering Escondido, San Marcos, and the San Diego North County region—from mid-2018 until early 2020. Also a freelance investigative reporter, his work has appeared in The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, The Intercept, Vice…