Democrats appointed to the Democratic Party’s Platform Committee by Hillary Clinton and the party’s chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, defeated a ban on fracking on June 24.
Former U.S. Representative Howard Berman, American Federation of State, County, and Muncipal Employees executive assistant to the president, Paul Booth, former White House Energy and Climate Change Policy director Carol Browner, Ohio State Representative Alicia Reece, former State Department official Wendy Sherman, and Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden all raised their hands to prevent a moratorium from becoming a part of the platform.
Those who voted against the ban were met with a cry of, “Shame on you! Shame on you!” from the audience.
The moratorium was introduced by 350.org founder and environmental activist, Bill McKibben, who was named to the committee by Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
“The logical thing to do going forward is to halt the rapid advance of fracking where it is and not allow it to expand out across the continent endangering people’s homes and lives and endangering even more powerfully than that the atmosphere all around us and the climate on which we depend,” McKibben argued.
Browner and Booth led the opposition against the ban, with Browner misleadingly describing how natural gas had reduced carbon pollution minutes after McKibben noted this may be true but the country’s greenhouse emissions have probably increased. That is because fracked gas leaks huge amounts of methane.
The former White House official also claimed fracking needs to be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. She suggested California had chosen to regulate fracking instead of ban fracking and that the state would be able to “ensure the kind of safeguards” necessary.
“We certainly support governors in states that make decisions based on their natural resources, based on their science, to do the kinds of things that Governor Cuomo has decided. But we do not support a national ban on fracking,” Browner declared. (Note: The science does not vary from state-to-state. What happens in California will happen in New York.)
Booth rambled his way through an argument against the ban that invoked jobs. He said the AFL-CIO and many other unions are opposed to a fracking ban. He also made a political argument in defense of allowing the natural gas industry to continue to destroy communities with pollution.
“These jobs are in the most significantly important battleground states that we have to carry in order to win the election that we have coming up,” Booth stated.
While people, like Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. Barbara Lee, Deborah Parker, Cornel West, James Zogby, and McKibben, voted for the ban, other self-proclaimed progressives on the committee sided with the natural gas industry against Planet Earth.
McKibben introduced the fracking ban by acknowledging the fact that years ago conventional wisdom suggested natural gas would be promising in the fight against climate change. It was widely believed this would reduce carbon emissions and be a viable replacement for coal. It was embraced as a “bridge fuel.” However, it turns out “each molecule of methane” is “about 86 times more powerful” as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Methane emission rates have soared. McKibben warned the committee that this could mean, even though President Barack Obama’s administration has reduced carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions may have increased in recent years because of fracking pollution.
As Sanders campaign policy adviser Warren Gunnels did when the committee met in Phoenix, McKibben highlighted the moratorium adopted in New York with the support of Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. The health commissioner in New York conducted a thorough six-year study, and said at a press conference, “I asked myself would I allow my family to live near a fracking well, and the answer was no. That being the case, I can’t ask anyone else to do so.”
The seven members of the platform committee, who voted against the ban, were apparently not moved by the actions of New York. In fact, they suggested that states could do what they wanted, as if that was somehow a meaningful concession.
The offer “that we won’t interfere with states’ ability to interfere with us is not much of an offer,” McKibben replied. What it is saying is if you can somehow “use the endless effort to build the movement to overcome the fossil fuel industry and somehow get a ban on fracking,” then “we won’t come in and undercut you.” He added, “That’s not really much of an offer to give to a movement that is now a powerful and proud movement.”
McKibben questioned Booth’s jobs argument and maintained renewable energy would provide more jobs than fracking. He also responded to Browner and Booth, who deceptively described the science.
“It’s very important to pay attention to scientific reality, and in this case, it’s changed the verdict in recent years on fracking. That is why there are so many people who are so impassioned in so many places,” McKibben said.
Browner was apparently livid with McKibben for challenging her, because she made it unnecessarily personal.
“I don’t think anyone here intends to suggest that folks are not committed to these issues. Many of us have fought a very, very long time on these issues,” Browner proclaimed.
Parker, an indigenous woman serving on the committee, pleaded with the committee, “To our indigenous people, water is one of the most sacred elements we have on Earth, and it is something very much worth protecting. If we’re serious about safe and clean drinking water and if we’re serious about clean air and if we’re serious about combating climate change, we need to put an end to fracking all over this country.”
“It’s very important to me as an indigenous person. It’s important to my family and several other indigenous nations across the country support ban on fracking as well,” Parker added.
Democrats have made the pollution of water in Flint, Michigan, a key issue. Why not stand up for people in the United States, who have had their water polluted by the natural gas industry?
As West stated, “It just strikes me that the argument about jobs and the argument about states does not reflect the depth of urgency, impending catastrophe, that was putting forward.”
“I discern a pattern. The pattern is, well, Brother McKibben, you’re speaking truths. We’re so glad you’ve been out there breaking your neck in the movement. But when it comes to these kind of considerations, we’ve got some counter-factors—jobs, states’ activity as opposed to federal activity—and it just doesn’t strike me that your insights are informed by the unbelievable sense of us being on the edge of the abyss as a species vis a vis nature.”
Minutes after attempting to add a fracking ban in the platform, McKibben followed that up with an attempt to add the following language:
“Democrats believe that the United States should lead the global community in keeping over 80% of all known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground. Democrats agree that the next President of the United States should not grant new leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and waters nor renewing existing leases at their expiration.”
“We have roughly five times as much coal, gas, and oil in our known reserves that we could burn and have any hope of keeping the temperature below those 1.5 to 2 degree increase that we guaranteed at Paris. That means 80% of the stuff we know about needs to stay where God put it underground.”
McKibben eloquently stated, “This is not a political problem of the sort that we are used to dealing with. Most political problems yield well to the formula that we’ve kept adopting on thing after thing—compromise, we’ll go halfway, we’ll get part of this done. That’s because most political problems are really between different groups of people. They’re between industry and environmentalists. That is not the case here.”
“The fundamental disagreement is between human beings on the one hand and physics on the other, and physics is a very poor negotiating partner. It does not compromise. It is uninterested in what battleground states are. What it is interested in is how much carbon and how much methane we’re going to pour into the atmosphere, and we know now how much we can do so it is almost an act of vandalism to continue to pour more in than science tells us we can.”
West expanded on previous comments, saying he believed Browner was endorsing reform incrementalism rather than the “fierce urgency of now,” which was a concept promoted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He suggested Democrats like Browner are in a “different vibe,” even if they agreed with what needed to be done to address the climate crisis.
“When you’re on the edge of the abyss or when you’re on that stove, to use the language of Malcolm X, you don’t use the language of incrementalism. It hurts, and the species is hurting.”
Browner declared, “Trust me, no one has ever called me incremental when it comes to protecting the environment ever.”
“If the choice is between doing something now or phasing something out over time, that seems to be the almost dictionary definition of incrementalism,” McKibben replied, after Browner insisted she was no “incrementalist.”
The same Democrats, who opposed a fracking ban, opposed a strong measure to keep fossil fuels in the ground to protect the environment. And Browner voted in defense of incrementally phasing out carbon or fossil fuels rather than taking bold action to address climate disruption.