Dems strike compromise on energy provisions in platform

Source: Jennifer Yachnin, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 11, 2016

Democrats on Saturday struck a compromise over energy policy in the party’s 2016 platform that calls for incentives that favor renewable energy development over natural gas power plants but does not include an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing promoted by supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

A “unity” amendment backed by supporters of both presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sanders — who is expected to abandon his bid for the nomination and endorse Clinton as early as tomorrow — also failed to include a formal carbon tax, although it states that “greenhouse gases should be priced to reflect their negative externalities, and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy.”

The Democratic National Committee’s 187-member Platform Committee approved the measure in a Saturday night vote during a two-day meeting in Orlando, Fla., to approve amendments to the party’s 2016 document. The platform will next be presented for ratification at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia the week of July 25.

During the at-times raucous Saturday meeting, opponents of fracking held signs that read “Frack No” and “Ban Fracking” and chanted “No Fracking Way” at one point as Josh Fox, the anti-drilling documentary filmmaker and platform committee member, proposed two amendments to the platform.

Fox’s initial effort was a simplistic measure that called for Democrats to support “a full national moratorium on fracking.”

“There is a political revolution going on in this country. And fracking has no place in it. In fact, a lot of it is because of fracking because Americans have had enough of being abused by the oil and gas industry in our own backyard,” Fox said. He later added: “This government has been co-opted by the natural gas industry for far too long and we are here to take it back.”

Although he pointed to New York’s ban on the process as a model, Fox did not distinguish between the state’s allowance for low-volume fracking or other states like Maryland, which last year imposed a moratorium on all kinds of fracking (EnergyWire, July 8).

But Democrats did not vote on that measure, instead adopting a substitution sponsored by Trevor Houser, who leads the Rhodium Group’s energy and natural resources practice and is a Clinton adviser.

The substitute amendment echoed arguments offered last month by former U.S. EPA Administrator Carol Browner — who was tapped by the Clinton campaign to serve on the platform drafting committee — when she argued against a ban on drilling and instead supported regulatory measures such as closing the “Halliburton loophole.”

The amendment also said Democrats would ensure “tough safeguards” to govern the drilling practice, including safe drinking water provisions, as well as vows to reduce methane emissions tied to fracking and to replace “thousands of miles of leaky pipes.”

The measure also supported the concept of local control, which Clinton has endorsed on the campaign trail.

“We believe hydraulic fracturing should not take place where states and local communities oppose it,” the amendment stated.

In a brief explanation of the amendment, Houser argued that immediately restricting fracking would push the nation back to a reliance on coal and would also undermine “millions of union households” who are involved in the oil and gas industry.

“We have a proud tradition in this country of using our bedrock environment laws … to protect our families and our economies while creating jobs,” Houser said.

Greens see progress

While Fox and other environmentalists lamented the failure of their proposal to curb fracking via a national moratorium, the filmmaker lauded the passage of the compromise, which will promote infrastructure for energy generated by renewable sources over that of natural gas.

“We dealt a serious blow to #fracked gas power plants & infrastructure 2day. We must defeat them now in the streets, but we have the platform,” Fox wrote on his Twitter account following the vote.

In addition to calling for carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases to be “priced” to reflect environmental impacts, the amendment endorsed additional executive actions, such as the Clean Power Plan.

“Democrats believe that climate change is too important to wait for climate deniers and defeatists in Congress to start listening to science, and support using every tool available to reduce emissions now,” the amendment states.

The platform will also endorse new investments in infrastructure, including expediting new transmission lines for production from renewable energy.

“We need to make our existing infrastructure safer and cleaner and build the new infrastructure necessary to power our future,” the amendment states.

The measure would also call for a new standard that echoes the Obama administration’s reasoning when it rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, asserting that federal actions should not “significantly exacerbate” global warming.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune praised the amendments’ passage yesterday, calling the Democratic platform “the strongest platform in history when it comes to tackling the climate crisis.”

He added: “The positive differences between this platform and the ones unveiled four and eight years ago are astonishing, and we applaud everyone on the committee for advocating for the bold, ambitious action we need to tackle the climate crisis and protect the health of every community.”

But Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter chided Democrats for refusing to embrace a moratorium on fracking, asserting the party has “rejected the science, as well as the will of most Americans.”