Biden, Harris Feel The Heat Over Fossil Fuel Subsidies

A television at Buck Bradley’s Saloon and Eatery shows Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaking at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), which is a largely virtual event due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., August 20, 2020.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A television at Buck Bradley’s Saloon and Eatery shows Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaking at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), which is a largely virtual event due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., August 20, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and the vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris had their first face-off with climate activists and other progressives after the Democratic National Committee scrubbed platform language that opposed fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks.

“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,” the amendment was added to the ledger of party demands after it was voted in, stated. The platform statement then disappeared from the final draft of the party platform which circulated Monday, August 17, Collin Rees of Oil Change U.S. who discovered the missing language, told The Real News.

A DNC spokesperson said in an email that the amendment was “incorrectly included” and “after the error was discovered” was removed.

To add to the controversy, the sponsor of an amendment John Laesch, a member of the DNC platform committee, reportedly claimed he did not consent to scrapping the language that had been approved, contradicting the DNC’s statement. 

Jeff Weaver, a long-time aide to Bernie Sanders, told The Real News he had spoken to Laesch who had agreed to the amendment being removed. “He agreed to the language being taken out in exchange for certain other amendments that he supported,” Weaver said, adding that it was indeed a “clerical error” which was rectified after the statement was scrubbed.  

These claims and counter-claims have exposed platform inadequacies and competing agendas at work within the Democratic ranks. Several nationwide climate groups and activist circles have lambasted the DNC for walking back its commitments to end fossil fuel subsidies demanding an answer. The drama unfolded as the roll call counted delegates in favor of Biden.  

Senior campaigner with Oil Change U.S. Collin Rees called the move a “betrayal” and “unbelievably stupid” and said, “ending subsidies is a common-sense position held by the vast majority of all voters, by both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.” 

Rees added that “for those of us working to defeat Donald Trump and confront the climate crisis, it’s critical that our party’s leaders and candidates stand up to the fossil fuel industry that’s trampling on Indigenous and frontline communities, poisoning air and water, abandoning workers, and wrecking the climate.” 

Thanu Yakupitiyage of 350 Action, the lobbying arm of the international environmental organization 350.org, told TRNN the group was in touch with the DNC to get to the bottom of the issue: “DNC has traditionally been much weaker on issues related to fossil fuels. The erasing of platform language cannot be an accident. We’re concerned and calling on the DNC platform to show strong commitment to ending fossil fuels. The absence of tangible steps is climate denial.” 

The group released a formal statement on Aug 19, urging “the DNC to reinstate relevant language on fossil fuel subsidies into their platform as a necessary and logical alignment with the positions of their nominees.”

Feeling the heat, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden reaffirmed his commitment to counter climate change in his acceptance speech. Biden referred to “undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change,” and said, “we can, and we will, deal with climate change. It’s not only a crisis, it’s an enormous opportunity. An opportunity for America to lead the world in clean energy and create millions of new good-paying jobs in the process.”

Although, as TRNN has reported earlier, Biden-Sanders task force recommendations on phasing out fossil fuel and carbon emissions include retrofitting existing electrical grids with Carbon Capture and Sequestration technologies (CCS), which amounts to subsidizing and keeping oil and gas companies in business.     

Despite these assurances, the Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement launched a new petition on Wednesday calling on Biden to keep the fossil fuel influence out and termed the scrubbing out platform language “an outrage.” The organizers told TRNN they will be following up with “more public pressure, sign-on letters, in-person actions, petitions, and more to ensure a fossil-free administration that can truly work for climate justice.”

Mark Longabaugh, a Democratic strategist who assisted on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign, said Biden would not be able to turn back the clock on the importance of climate agenda for the country: “There are many forces pushing back on progressive agendas including climate and healthcare and there is going to be opposition. The real question is what kind of a force can Biden mobilize to get his policies into action.” 

According to Weaver though, platform language does not matter much after the strong pro-climate policy position articulated by Biden and running mate Kamala Harris. 

“The Vice President has acknowledged in his acceptance speech that he in fact supports the language [on fossil fuels] that was added and taken out,” Weaver said. “And it was very difficult to get everything done through Zoom meetings and virtual conventions. So such mistakes can happen. And the fact that there were 400 amendments and the Biden camp agrees to all of those and there was only one mistake was a pretty well done overall.”  

There has not been an official word from the DNC leadership elaborating on the nature of the “error” that led to the first public challenge to Biden-Harris duo on the issue of fossil fuels subsidies. Climate activists have meanwhile agreed to “ensure there are no fossil fuel industry representatives in a Biden administration — people who’ve spent the last decades repping Big Oil, Gas, and Coal absolutely can’t be put in charge of the nation’s climate policy.” 

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Aman Azhar

Aman is an experienced broadcast journalist with multimedia skills, and has more than a decade of international reporting experience. He has previously worked with globally recognized news media brands, including BBC World Service and VOA. Aman brings with him several years of reporting experience covering political and diplomatic affairs, and also specializes in the South…