Democrats Quietly Cut Opposition to Fossil Fuel Subsidies From DNC Platform

Cheers to more oil subsidies!
Cheers to more oil subsidies!
Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP (Getty Images)

Democratic presidential ticket Joe Biden and Kamala Harris both came out against fossil fuel subsidies during their respective White House primary bids. But the party they now lead removed language doing the same at the last minute from its national platform.

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Documents shared with Earther include the “manager’s mark,” a series of amendments to the draft party platform approved on July 27. That included the following language:

“Democrats support eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels, and will fight to defend and extend tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy.”

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While 29 other pages of amendments and changes were added to the final version of the party platform, from simple phrases to whole paragraphs, this one sentence is conspicuously absent. Collin Rees, a campaigner with Oil Change U.S. who was among those who lobbied for the language, said in an email this was the “main win we had on fossil fuels.” Now, it’s gone from the platform being voted on at this week’s virtual Democratic National Convention.

“The amendment in question was incorrectly included in the manager’s mark,” a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee said in an email. “After the error was discovered, both the Biden campaign and Sanders campaign, along with those who submitted the amendment, agreed to withdraw the amendment from consideration.”

Clerical errors aside on the document that defines the Democratic Party for the next four years, the move, first reported in HuffPost, is bizarre for a number of reasons. Biden and Harris both favor ending subsidies for dirty energy and not just in the U.S. Biden’s climate plan calls for a “worldwide ban on fossil fuel subsidies,” going on to say (emphasis added), “There is simply no excuse for subsidizing fossil fuel, either in the United States or around the world.” Biden has also endorsed extending tax credits for businesses that go low- or no-carbon and bringing back electric vehicle tax credits, something the DNC apparently didn’t want in its platform.

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“I’m seething with rage right now,” RL Miller, the head of Climate Hawks Vote and a DNC delegate, said in an email. “Thousands of climate hawks spoke out in favor of ending fossil fuel subsidies. They spoke out in complete harmony with Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, both of whom campaigned on ending fossil fuel subsidies.”

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Breaking with the presumptive nominee on this at the convention is outlandish. There’s also the fact that voters also favor phasing out subsidies. Polling by Data for Progress from last year shows ending fossil fuel subsidies have a net favorability rating of 25 percent across all voters. That includes a plus-52 percent for Democratic voters and a plus-30 percent rating for mythical independent voters parties are supposed to be very keen to win over.

With Republicans uninterested in doing anything about climate, Democrats had a prime opportunity to seize the issue with force. Instead, the Democratic Party took a popular policy out of its platform that its presumptive presidential nominee supports. Oh, and it’s also a step back from the 2016 platform, which said the following:

“Democrats believe the tax code must reflect our commitment to a clean energy future by eliminating special tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies as well as defending and extending tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy.”

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The DNC’s continued hostility to treat climate change as an existential threat is something to behold. It sidelined climate during the primary by refusing to hold a debate on the topic and the efforts to continue at the convention. The Democrats’ unwillingness to fully embrace what’s needed to address climate change has also played out in speaker roles, including giving the party’s most honest voice on climate change, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a paltry 60-second speaking slot at this week’s convention.

“As my colleagues and I wrote in Scientific American recently, when it comes to tackling the climate crisis, ending fossil fuel subsidies is a no-brainer,” Geoffrey Supran, a Harvard researcher who has studied the fossil fuel industry’s influence, said in an email. “All the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates committed to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and the vast majority of the American public supports doing so. For the DNC to not reflect that unanimity in its platform is bad policy and bad politics. It sends a troubling, confusing signal to the public that even though the DNC talks big on climate, it is literally uncommitted to putting its money where its mouth is. It is also a reminder that despite the fossil fuel industry’s financial freefall, it continues to tip the balance of US politics away from serious climate action.”

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If it were only a politics things, it would be pretty damning. Unfortunately, the fate of the human race is on the line, too. The world faces a crucial decade to rapidly draw down carbon emissions, and the U.S., as the world’s biggest historical polluter, needs to play an outsize role. The surest route to doing so is phasing out fossil fuels, and one of the fastest ways to do that is to stop propping them up with subsidies.

Globally, governments pump into the fossil fuel industry $5 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies (the U.S. is responsible for $649 billion of that share). The public’s money is being spent to strangle the life out of the planet. One document alone won’t completely alter the course we’re on, obviously. But the platform is a chance for Democrats to show how they plan to govern from the White House to statehouses for the next four years if they win power. Unfortunately, it shows they aren’t ready to use that power to take on the most polluting industry on Earth.

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Managing editor, Earther

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DISCUSSION

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So with the addition of Colin Powell as a speaker, there are now, by my count, five current, actual Republicans, speaking at the Democratic National Convention. Here’s what one of them had to say: “They fear Joe may turn sharp left and leave them behind. I don’t believe that....He’s reasonable, faithful, respectful, and you know, no one pushes Joe around,” as if going left is the opposite of being “reasonable, faithful, respectful.”  Meanwhile, an actual rising star of the Democratic Party, is given 60 seconds! And now, we have this bullshit, removing a common sense pro-environment plank from the party’s platform.  It’s more than a little disappointing to see Democrats, whose nominee is up 8-9 points against a historically unpopular president, appear to embrace (at least symbolically) a strategy of “Don’t worry, we’re kind of Republicans, too!”