DNC’s Climate Commitment, Closer, but Still No Cigar
Many eyes were on Orlando, Florida this weekend as they Democratic National Committee (DNC) converged to vote on the Party Platform. The platform is meant to serve as a navigator for Democratic candidates running for office at all levels of government, as well as a statement of party unity. But right from the start it was clear from the onset that some of the most contentious issues separating the Sanders and Clinton campaigns were climate related, specifically fracking, a price on global warming pollution, the use of eminent domain for fossil fuel infrastructure and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. The daylight between the two campaigns on this issue was as profound as the unforgiving sun in Orlando, which contributed to, at times, unbearable heat – as if climate change was trying to tell all in attendance something.
Prior to the kick off of the two day meeting, fracktivists from across the country and Florida including David Braun from Californians Against Fracking, Russell Greene, Bill McKibben, Deborah Snyder, Josh Fox and Betty Osceola held a press conference sponsored by our friends Food & Water Watch. For my part, I reminded the DNC that failing to call for a national ban on fracking is akin to climate denial. I also reiterated that fracking is a profound demonstration of environmental racism because communities of color, including Native American communities, are more likely to be situated near fracking operations and waste. The press conference was very positive and we were fired up and ready to take our concerns to the entire 187-person platform committee.
What We Didn’t Get
1. Trans Pacific Partnership
The TPP agreement is one of President Obama’s last big pending votes in Congress. But it’s also a controversial part of his presidency. That’s because many in the environmental movement (including Environmental Action) are concerned that previous free trade agreements, like NAFTA, don’t include strong or enforceable environmental guidelines. Political activist, and proud progressive Texan, Jim Hightower offered a spirited testimony on the need to reject the TPP as part of the party platform, referring to it at one point as “manure.” Former NAACP President, Ben Jealous, also pleaded for Democrats to consider the political ramifications while the Republicans plan to include a call for rejecting the TPP in their party’s platform.
Scholar and activist Dr. Cornell West also chimed in remarking, “We want unity, but we want it real. We do not want it on the backs of working people. We want opposition to the TPP in this platform.” And during these remarks, the Sanders camp produced boxes that contained over 700,000 signatures from people across the country who oppose the TPP. I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. West throughout the weekend and explained to him that my main opposition to TPP is because of fracking. Two-thirds of the countries that make up this trade agreement are included in the top 50 global importers of natural gas. This will lead to more fracking and fracked gas infrastructure as the United States, pursuant to the Natural Gas Act, is compelled to fast track the exports of natural gas to any country it has a free trade agreement with.
In the end, the Clinton Camp had the votes to prevent any calls for a TPP rejection to be included as part of the party platform – though this did lead to many calls of “shame” from the audience.
2. National Fracking Ban
This was arguably the most charged debate of the weekend…literally the only issue where everyone in the audience stood the entire time. The debate kicked off with remarks from filmmaker, fracktivist and Sanders surrogate Josh Fox. Josh electrified the crowd and reminded them that fracking is a big deal in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania – states with single issue voters who, “refuse to vote to frack their own backyards.” Despite an amazing testimony, which made clear that a majority of Democrats (including the audience), support a ban fracking, the Clinton camp voted down a fracking ban as part of the platform.
What we Did Get
In a moment of party unity, the DNC Platform Committee after negotiations between the two camps that included Ben Jealous, Bill McKibben, and Jane Kleeb, the Democrats emerged with a “Unity Agreement” on climate change that reads:
Democrats believe that carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases should be priced to reflect their negative externalities, and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy and help meet our climate goals. 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. We will streamline federal permitting to accelerate the construction of new transmission lines to get low-cost renewable energy to market, and incentivize wind, solar and other renewable energy over the development of new natural gas power plants. We support President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. As we continue working to reduce carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions, we most ensure federal actions don’t “significantly exacerbate” global warming. We support a comprehensive approach that insures all federal decisions going forward contribute to solving, not significantly exacerbating climate change. Democrats believe that our commitment to meeting the climate challenge most also be reflected in the infrastructure investments we make. We need to make our existing infrastructure safer and cleaner and build the new infrastructure necessary to power our clean energy future. To create good-paying middle class jobs that can’t be outsourced, Democrats support high labor standards in clean energy infrastructure, and the right to form or join a union, whether in renewable power or advanced vehicle manufacturing. During the clean energy transition, we will insure landowners, communities of color and tribal nations are at the table.
It should be noted that this agreement was only negotiated in response to the threat of mass mobilization if further climate amendments were refused. The Break Free Actions, and many other events, have shown that our movement can mobilize, organize and carry out peaceful direct action that disrupts the regular operations of the beltway class and their fossil fuel backers. Apparently many people have been paying attention.
What it Means
While none of the language is binding, it does demonstrate that the Democrats will consider greenhouse gas pricing, applying a climate test to all federal actions and projects and greater inclusion of communities of color, including Tribal nations, in the process of a just transition. While the language is encouraging, it is not a total victory. As Dr. West reminded the audience during his remarks, “We must applaud the coming together, but at the same time, we’ve got to keep the focus on the gap between declaration and execution. It’s a beautiful thing to come together and put it on paper. But I also want to see the practice.” He continued, “This means we have to have an inside/outside strategy…a movement in the streets with people willing to go to jail.”
I could not agree with Dr. West more. We need to do much more because as I said in Phoenix: climate change has stolen time from all of us. The age of perfunctory platitudes and incrementalism must become an anachronism. This is why we are pleased to be working with our friends at Food and Water Watch on the March for a Clean Energy Revolution. It is why we are pleased to be working with our comrades at Beyond Extreme Energy, and it is why we are honored to be working with frontline activists and leaders like Cherri Foytlin who we will continue to fight with until the DNC and RNC include a call for the cessation of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico like they did for the Arctic and the Atlantic.
Stay tuned for report backs in the coming weeks about how we will continue to press the DNC for an overall climate policy that treats climate change like the national and global emergency that it is.