Monday, July 25, 2016

Climate Policy and the Democratic Party Platform

[This Note was published in edited form as a guest blog on Greg Laden’s blog at ] It is time, now, for climate activists to get vocal.
As it becomes more clear that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, there is increasing talk about the importance of unifying the party. Negotiations are on the horizon…for VP and for policy platforms.
Now, we must be sure climate, and carbon cutting policy, is part of those negotiations.
Consider, for a moment, as Bernie Sanders begins to make demands in exchange for his support, what he will insist upon. What two or three or four policy platforms will he insist be incorporated into the Democratic Party platform?
His campaign’s latest email:
“What remains in front of us is a very narrow path to the nomination. In the weeks to come we will be competing in a series of states that are very favorable to us – including California. Just like after March 15 – when we won 8 of the next 9 contests – we are building tremendous momentum going into the convention. That is the reality of where we are right now, and why we are going to fight for every delegate and every vote. It is why I am going to continue to speak to voters in every state about the very important issues facing our country. Our country cannot afford to stop fighting for a $15 minimum wage, to overturn Citizens United, or to get universal health care for every man, woman, and child in America.” (Emphasis mine).
Notice what is missing?
The single most important issue of our day. The single biggest threat to national security.
Climate change.
It comes down to us to insist that meaningful carbon cuts are at the top of the platform.
Hillary Clinton critics are right. Hillary has wrongly called gas a bridge fuel. She absolutely needs to be pushed to make it her goal, and that of the Democratic Party, to END gas and all other fossil fuels. She has good solid plans to regulate fracking. Those policies will drive up the cost of gas and therefore send price signals that, in the absence of a price on carbon, will drive us toward other sources of energy. But it is essential that we have the stated goal of ending gas. That will set the stage for the essential conversations about how we will replace that gas without turning off the lights and heat. Efficiency, lifestyle changes, renewables, and, yes, nuclear.
Bernie Sanders has made it plain that he will allow nuclear licenses to lapse. If nuclear plants close now, they are likely to be replaced with gas. He has said that he isn’t closing the plants now, just allowing for them to close by attrition. This isn’t quite the reality of allowing licenses to lapse. The reality is that nuclear plants are already closing now, before their licenses lapse, because electricity is so cheap that regular maintenance ends up economically unfeasible. Part of that calculation is lifetime return. If you know you won't be relicensed in 2025, it is all the more reason not to do 2017's maintenance and instead close down. And once a nuclear plant is mothballed, it's done. You can't just refurbish and turn it back on, like you can with gas and coal. Unfortunately, there is little political will to take on the nuclear issue within the party at this point. Maybe that means that we can simply accept Hillary’s approach to leave nuclear alone. Perhaps her political calculation on nuclear was simply on target.
Perhaps the one thing all climate activists can agree to demand in these negotiations is a carbon tax. Hillary Clinton has had, for many months, a vague, buried reference to carbon markets in her policy platform.* People have made little mention of it, simply saying she doesn't support carbon taxes. Why not highlight that she seems to support carbon pricing, insist that she become more vocal about it, and push her to explain why she is supporting cap and trade over taxes? As that conversation unfolds, she will be forced to address the distinctions, and, at the same time, the electorate will become more knowledgeable about carbon pricing. At the end of the day, the party platform may end up with a clear carbon price plan.
Whatever climate policies end up in the Democratic Party Platform, it is clear that climate activists must put aside the horse race between Clinton and Sanders and remember that neither of them go far enough. Neither is prepared to get to zero emissions by 2050. Neither sees climate as the single most important issue to address.
It is time for climate voters and climate activists to demand that the Democratic Party serve up more than fiery rhetoric from Sanders and more than visionless bridge fuels from Clinton.
It is time to demand the best from each of them and ensure they don’t simply offer up their worst on climate.

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