Energy and climate change discussions at the DNC

  • Susan Phillips
  • Jon Hurdle

Thousands marched for clean energy and against fracking ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Thousands marched for clean energy and against fracking ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.


It’s not simply activity on the convention floor that make up a political convention. In addition to the speeches, caucuses and roundtable discussions are all part of the DNC this week in Philadelphia.
Leaders of environmental groups, politicians and business people gathered at a hotel in Center City Philadelphia to discuss how the Democratic Party could be pressed further to address climate change. The event was sponsored by Bloomberg News.
Elizabeth Thompson, a lobbyist for the Environmental Defense Fund, credited the Bernie Sanders supporters for bringing energy and focus to climate issues.
“It used to be climate change, or addressing these issues was sort of the political loser like, why would you do that? That’s going to hurt you. But I think a lot of people understand its about new jobs, it’s about clean energy revolution, it’s about the future.”
Thompson says Hillary Clinton is herself very committed to combatting climate change.
But it looks like it will be tough for Clinton to convince all of Bernie Sanders supporters, who point to Clinton’s fossil fuel company donors, and the lack of a ban on fracking. The Democratic Party platform endorsed a price on carbon, but nobody at the table thought that would happen anytime soon.
Meanwhile, two Democratic Congressmen and a Yale law professor debated how the next president might end the political polarization that has impeded climate-related initiatives such as the wider adoption of renewable fuels or prevented tighter regulation of fossil-fuel emissions.
At a DNC-week panel discussion in a downtown Philadelphia bar, participants were asked by moderator Steve Clemons of The Atlantic magazine whether fracking for natural gas and oil had come with too many downsides such as health effects and contaminated water.
Daniel Esty, the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale Law School, said fracking for natural gas should be much more tightly regulated so that its economic and climate benefits can continue to be enjoyed without its negative impacts.
“We should continue to frack for natural gas but with much tougher regulations” on the industry’s use of chemicals; its use of water, and the leakage of methane, he said.
But Rep. Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas, suggested there was little prospect of Republicans and Democrats finding a way of resolving the highly polarized debate on fracking and other energy-related issues any time soon.
“We certainly want to be based on science, but, as you know, politics comes in, and people won’t look at the science,” Cuellar said. “Can we sit down and have these tradeoffs? The problem is not only Democrats versus Republicans but Democrats versus Democrats.”
The next administration could improve energy policy by giving industry more opportunity to work with regulators, Cuellar said. “Another administration will allow industry to have a say,” he said.
A potential area of agreement, Esty said, would be to slowly phase in a carbon tax that would start at $5 a ton and rise at $5 per year for 20 years. Congressional Republicans who currently oppose such a levy may be persuaded to support it if they were allowed to decide how to use the revenue, he said. And he said utilities “should be paid more” to increase their use of renewables.
Political heroism rarely produces results, Esty argued, while compromise is far more likely to produce real progress. “If you want to get something done, you have to give up being a hero, and that could be appealing to the incoming administration.”
Rep. Jerry McNerny, Democrat of California, said the top priorities for the incoming administration should be to impose a carbon tax and to end federal subsidies for fossil fuels.

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