Democratic Party Platform: Lots of Hot Air on Climate Change
Janet Redman, who provided testimony at the DNC Platform Committee, and Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, address the draft’s shortcomings on the carbon tax, TPP, fracking, and fossil fuel extraction
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The Democratic platform drafting committee wrapped up their work last weekend and sent the draft off for ratification at the Democratic National Convention in July. Some of the big issues under consideration are energy policy, climate change, and trade deals. While the draft boasts a lot about how it is going to deal with the challenges of climate change, they did not support a proposal put forward by Bill McKibben, one of the Sanders delegates to the Platform Committee and founder of the environmental group 350.org. He was calling for a ban on fracking. Let’s have a look at some of the exchanges between them.
BILL MCKIBBEN: We call for a full national moratorium on fracking. The rapid spread of fracking, particularly for natural gas, is something that the Democratic Party, and in fact all the national leadership, have been quite complacent in over the last 8 years. And the reason for that was because at its start people thought that this technology held promise for dealing with climate change. People used to routinely refer to natural gas as a bridge fuel that would help us overcome our climate woes. As with many things, this turned out to be much too good to be true. The problem is that if it escapes unburned into the atmosphere, each molecule of methane, CH4, depending on the timeframe you measure it on, about 86 times more powerful greenhouse gas molecule for molecule than CO2.
PAUL BOOTH: The AFL-CIO and many of trade unions in the country are opposed to a fracking ban. There are significant numbers of jobs at stake. Many of these jobs are in the most significantly important battleground states that we have to carry in order to win the election that’s coming up.
DR. CORNEL WEST: But it just strikes me that the argument about jobs and the argument about states does not reflect the depth of urgency in pending catastrophe. And it just doesn’t strike me that your insides are informed by the unbelievable sense of us being on the edge of an abyss as a species vis-a-vis nature.
SPEAKER: Now we will vote. All those in favor of the amendment please raise your hands. All those opposed. 7 against, 6 for.
PERIES: They also did not support measures for attacks on carbon or measures against a contentious Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that many environmentalists say would undermine U.S. environmental protections–a deal both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders say that they did not support.
Joining us now to discuss all of this is Wenonah Hauter and Janet Redman. Wenonah Hauter is the author of Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment. She’s also the Founder and Executive Director of Food and Water Watch. Thank you for joining us Wenonah.
WENONAH HAUTER: I’m glad to be here.
PERIES: And joining us from Washington, D.C. is Janet Redman. Janet is a Director of Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, and she recently presented to the Platform Committee. Janet thank you so much for joining us.
JANET REDMAN: Great to be back, thanks.
PERIES: So Wenonah let me start with you. You see anything to celebrate in this draft that’s going forward to the DNC convention?
HAUTER: Well, we’re not feeling too celebratory. It is good to see climate change mentioned and to note what a terrible problem we face in the near term from climate chaos. But it was too little action too late, and you cannot continue to frack and meet climate goals. So we’re very disappointed and intend to put a lot of pressure on democratic delegates at the convention.
PERIES: And Janet, let me give you an opportunity to answer the same question. Is there anything to celebrate here?
REDMAN: Sure. Celebrate may be a strong word but I think it is positive motion forward that there is, again, as Wenonah mentioned, there’s mention of the ADA moving beyond an [inaud.] energy strategy. There’s agreement that we, the U.S., should be 100% clean energy-powered by 2050. It’s too late, but the idea of even getting to 100% clean energy-powered is an important marker. I think for me what’s pretty interesting was the idea that there was unanimous agreement that the Department of Justice should be investigating fossil fuel companies that misled their shareholders in not letting them know the public interest problems of using their own products. So making sure that we’re holding accountable folks like Exxon Mobil, who were knowledgeable of the fact that burning carbon was going to create climate chaos for the people that actually hold shares in that company.
That’s an interesting knock on corporate power. But as Wenonah has said, this does not go far enough. The fact that they’ve said no to different financial tools for cutting carbon. The fact that they’ve said no to keeping fossil fuels in the ground and not on public lands. The fact they’ve said no to fossil fuels taking public land by eminent domain shows that there’s not the force looking at climate chaos that’s unraveling already in our communities today. It’s not being taken seriously enough.
PERIES: And Wenonah, you said something very important. You said that we’re going to have a battle over this at the convention. Where do you think that will go? Because the Platform Committee was also representative of, say, the Bernie Sanders contingent, and Bill McKibben is one of the greatest advocates of a clean energy system in this country, but they didn’t get very far at the Platform Committee. Why do you look forward to the convention?
HAUTER: Well first of all, this is just one of the many steps along the way. There is a tremendous movement growing to keep fossil fuels in the ground, which is really the only long-term answer to climate change. There are more than 600 groups that have signed on to a march for a clean energy revolution that’s going to take place in Philadelphia on July 24, the day before the convention starts. And on the 23rd there’s going to be a summit. A clean energy summit. Because we know that the Democratic Party is not really listening. Their idea for clean energy includes natural gas, and that is totally irresponsible, because in the next 10 years we need to take real action on climate change. And the new science shows that methane is almost 100 times more potent a greenhouse gas in the first 20 years after it’s emitted.
So the potential for just making climate chaos worse is there if we continue fracking for natural gas, and we should also remember that in the short term, that since 2012, 80 percent of fracking has been for oil. So we need to continue the pressure, and this pressure will take place within the convention itself. We’ve delivered with our allies more than 90,000 petitions to delegates. We really are in a battle for our future. And so this movement that’s taken off and made banning fracking an issue and the Democratic Presidential nomination debate will also be apparent inside the convention.
PERIES: Wenonah, why do you think voted down the fracking proposal on the table when there’s such popular support, and the evidence by the scientists are very clear how damaging this is to our environment?
HAUTER: Well, I think it’s because of both ties to the oil and gas industry, but also the finance industry. Big banks have loaned more than $200 billion alone just for infrastructure to support natural gas fracking, and I think that the Democratic Party is way too wed to these financial service industry interests, and they are afraid to do what we really need to do to move forward. And when you look at what they did on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, refusing to vote for an amendment that would be against the Democratic Party’s support for the TPP, you realize the level of confusion and how they’re talking out of both sides of their mouths.
PERIES: Janet, let me let you get in on this. Now TPP is something that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both spoken out against yet the Platform Committee seemed just to have ignored it, why?
REDMAN: Well I think we should be really careful the way we look at how Senator Clinton has actually spoke, Secretary Clinton has spoken about TPP. So she certainly has been pressured to say I would not vote for the TPP, I would not promote the TPP as it looks right now, which it’s been harder to get her on record, as saying that she specifically is against something called investor state dispute clause. That’s the clause that enables other companies from other countries to sue the United States government for the kinds of protections, for worker protections and environmental protection, that we may put in place here at home. So that’s a really important distinction to make.
So until we really see Clinton getting on board with saying no to this particular provision, we should be concerned. But still I think that brings into light the broader foreign policy concerns. I actually was asked to give testimony to the committee on climate change as a foreign policy issue, as a security issue, and there I feel like we see some of these distinctions about there’s this huge support at home about stopping fracking, saying no to the TPP, and yet there’s a huge push to keep moving or to not reflect that movement at home in the platform. Wenonah touched on it. She just said part of what’s interesting internationally, we are supporting national gas fracking and the export of our technologies around the world.
There’s a really interesting initiative right now called Power Africa that many agencies are getting behind. It’s the U.S. foreign assistance program around energy. A lot that its talked about is energy access, bringing renewable energy to folks in the continent. But if you look deep inside actually, a lot of what’s been controversial about that is the expansion of natural gas fracking. Again talked about as a cleaner fossil fuel and part of the bridge to a low carbon economy but a real stake in the ground by the natural gas industry in that space.
And as Wenonah also had mentioned, when we look at expanding both the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the T-TIP, we’re looking at energy as one of the main aspects of that partnership. So trade and natural gas, export of natural gas in the United States and then a real concern around whether or not we’ll be able to uphold our labor and our environmental standards here in the U.S. if we sign on to that agreement.
PERIES: Alright and let’s also, this is for you Janet, why did the committee not adopt the carbon tax policy.
REDMAN: That’s a good question. I mean a carbon tax policy anytime you call something a tax I think as we know in the kind of conventional wisdom it’s a red flag. I personally, we have in [inaud.] policy studies have some concern about a carbon tax in particular how it reflects the concerns of those who are lowest income in the United States. A carbon tax is unfortunately regressive unless a lot of work is done to make sure that there are rebates to low income folks. But low income folks spend more on their energy bills than higher income folks. They spend about 15% of their income just on energy bills. So we need to make sure that anything we do in the United States to curb carbon is actually fair and equitable here.
A carbon tax is not, I think, the best way to reduce carbon. Regulation on power plants is the best way to reduce carbon. Regulation on cars and making public transportation available, moving the way we move our goods from trucks to rail lines is the best way to cut carbon. So I’m not as upset about the carbon tax not getting into the platform as others may be.
I think it’s more concerning that the ban on fracking didn’t make it in. That the moratorium on fossil fuel extraction on public lands didn’t make it in. I feel like there are spaces where we have some easy potential victories that are about the public trust. That are about public spaces and public lands that may have been easier to win here and I would’ve liked to have seen both the Democratic Party from Clinton and Sanders folks champion those pieces.
PERIES: And Wenonah would you agree with that about the carbon tax?
HAUTER: I do agree with Janet. We’re very concerned at Food and Water Watch about the carbon tax. We’ve looked at the data in British Columbia that is used as one of the reasons that a carbon tax actually reduces carbon and what we’ve found is the recession in 2008 is what actually reduced carbon. Rather than these financial schemes, putting the financial services industry in charge of our global climate. For instance, with cap and trade or a carbon tax. We favor regulation and moving towards keeping fossil fuels in the ground. We need to make a very fast transition to renewable energy and energy efficiency and we’re not there yet. In 2015, only 5% of our electricity was generated from solar and wind. We need to stop saying the market is going to fix environmental problems and we need to move forward to actually regulate these damaging emissions and we believe that there is a growing movement to do this and that the Democratic Party has shown that the leadership is out of touch both with its base and with what needs to do to stop climate chaos and that’s not just about saving the environment that is about making this inhabitable planet for future generations.
REDMAN: There is one kind of, there is a market mechanism that we could use right away to cut carbon and that’s actually taking away the tax subsidies that we already give the fossil fuel industry. That in itself would make burning oil coal and gas less profitable right off the bat. There are some easy things that could’ve been in this platform that aren’t right now.
PERIES: Important point Janet. Thank you so much for joining us today, both of you. Wenonah Hauter and Janet Redman. Look forward to hearing from you both going forward.
REDMAN: Thank you very much.
HAUTER: Thanks so much.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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