Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Democrats Adopt Fossil Fuel Industry’s Plan On Climate During Highly Choreographed Platform Meeting


-by John Laesch

While there were some small wins by the Sanders representatives on the Democratic Platform, it remains far from the, “most progressive platform ever” as toted by the party. Unfortunately, I also saw the Democratic Party fail future generations when they adopted the fossil fuel industry’s plans to “mitigate” the climate crisis. Furthermore, the Biden representatives voted down multiple progressive platform pieces that might have moved voters to the polls in November. You can watch the entire 5-hour meeting here


Despite the organized process on camera, behind the curtain, the process was very undemocratic including the fact that platform members received information at the very last-minute, or not at all. I logged onto the virtual meeting an hour early as instructed by the DNC. The 200+ amendments that we were supposed to vote on were still not available to platform committee members. I sent an e-mail to the DNC secretary to see if it would be uploaded to the portal or to determine if I was doing something incorrectly. By 12:30, half an hour before the meeting started, I noticed that the platform amendments had been uploaded. I downloaded, printed, and started reading.

There were two categories of amendments. The bulk of amendments were listed under, “The Chair’s Amendments” and included almost 200 amendments that both campaigns agreed upon. I didn’t see any of my proposed amendments here.

The other category of amendments listed as “Amendments for consideration” were the amendments that would be discussed and actually voted on. I didn’t see my proposed amendments here either.

My primary amendment challenged the use of tax subsidies for fossil fuel companies that extracted the dirtiest and hardest to reach oil. I had submitted a total of 9 amendments on climate. Four of the nine were an effort to strip Democratic support for the fossil fuel industry’s plan that focuses on carbon capture and storage. I want to give credit to fellow climate activists, June Sekera and RL Miller for helping draft language and amendments. The primary amendment I was fighting for read:
I move to amend page 46, line 20 to bring back and improve upon a sentence from the 2016 Democratic Platform, “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, including any tax subsidies for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), carbon capture and storage (CCS) or direct air capture (DAC).
The problem of course was that the Biden people didn’t want a public debate over climate; they wanted unity. My concern over a Biden administration advancing Enhanced Oil Recovery to mitigate the climate crisis is that it would be like Donald Trump trying to solve the Coronavirus crisis without masks, testing or social distancing. CCS coupled with EOR will produce more carbon, not less. For the moment I want to return to my account of the platform committee meeting.

Wheeling, Dealing & coercing TO DROP AMENDMENTS

Around 9:00 AM the morning before the platform meeting a Sanders staffer called and was pressing me to once again drop my amendments. This was the third of such calls and this time she amped up the Biden threats. If we didn’t drop these amendments, the Biden people would pull more progressive measures from the platform that we had successfully negotiated. Her final offer was an opportunity to speak for 2-3 minutes, but only if I dropped the amendments. I rejected that offer and said that I would prefer a “moral defeat” and an actual vote. Even though I did not drop my amendments, someone made the decision to break DNC rules and just dropped the amendments anyway. Apparently other platform members had accepted speaking opportunities in exchange for dropping their amendments.

The most moving speaker was Patrisse Cullors, who became a community organizer with Black Lives Matter because police beat and abused her mentally disabled brother, Monty. Patrisse in her speech expressed the thrill of being on the platform committee as an opportunity to fundamentally change things and give black people a stronger voice in the platform, but then she openly called out party leaders for ignoring her recommendations. “Unfortunately, I learned that all my recommendations made by and for families like mine from across the country had been rejected.”

Other platform committee members who made speeches in exchange for pulling their amendments included Peter Rickman, a union leader from Wisconsin and Ryan Dietsch, a Parkland student who survived the mass shooting and still suffers from PTSD.


What was interesting is that the Biden camp used some of the Sanders’ “moral defeats” to send a strong message to their corporate donors that there was no danger of the American people taking back their government under a Biden administration.

Defeat #1: Healthcare

Climate wasn’t the only top issue on the chopping block. Several amendments to healthcare were voted down from Medicare for All, Expanded Medicare for Children, A Public Option, and even Individual States to make their own determination on a public option.

Dr. Abdul El Sayed and Michael Lighty, the former political director of the National Nurses Union, advanced several unsuccessful proposals to add Medicare for All into the Democratic Platform. It was all theater and when I called Lighty to hear the back story, he said that there was real hope that the Biden campaign would advance a state single payer plank as part of the Chair’s Amendments.

According to Lighty there was significant dialogue over content leading up to the morning of the platform meeting, but support was pulled at the last minute. Corporate healthcare lobbyists have been fighting single-payer healthcare for decades and their financial investment in the Democratic Party is no secret.

The defeat of Medicare for All also guaranteed that the 2020 Democratic Party Platform is indeed not the most progressive in American History. According to a recent article by The Nation Magazine, the 1972 Democratic Party Platform took a very bold position on healthcare that read, “establish a system of universal National Health Insurance which covers all Americans with a comprehensive set of benefits including preventive medicine, mental and emotional disorders, and complete protection against catastrophic costs, and in which the rule of free choice for both provider and consumer is protected. The program should be federally-financed and federally-administered.” Almost 5 decades later, the Democrat’s platform like their party continues to move towards a corporate state.

Defeat #2: Palestine

The second moral defeat that seemed staged was a wink and nod to wealthy Democratic donors that a Biden presidency would not change a thing with respect to foreign policy in the Middle East. Amendment 331611 acknowledged human rights abuses and the continued occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel, but it was defeated by a vote of 34-117 with 5 abstentions.

The Sanders supporters and a few Justice-oriented Biden supporters voted in favor of the amendment that was presented by Clem Belanoff, a veteran platform member who also served in 2016. To counter Clem’s powerful presentation that used the words of both Barack Obama and former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sheron, the Biden team used two speakers. One was the Hillary Clinton 2016 whip, Wendy Sherman. The other was Dan Shapiro. The point is that team Biden got two people to speak against the amendment and only Clem was allowed to speak in favor of the amendment.

Defeat #3: Cannabis

The third moral defeat was a vote on legalizing marijuana at the federal level. Several other platform committee members later told me that this vote had more to do with Biden’s personal views on marijuana. Several Biden representatives voted in favor of the amendment that was presented by Dennis Obdusky from Colorado. Amendment 58848 failed by a vote of 50 - yes, 106 – no and 3 abstentions.

Better than Trump though


While the Biden people welcomed the opportunity to publicly shoot down language on healthcare and human rights they knew that they couldn’t paint a picture of disunity throughout the entire meeting. One of the places where they sought to push unity was climate, and one of the proposals that was initially suggested by RL Miller did help improve the platform language. It was more of a technical fix than a substantive change, but the high-profile introduction of the amendment by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave the impression that this was a unified progressive platform. The original draft platform read:
Democrats will immediately rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and convene a world summit aimed at new and more ambitious global targets to reduce carbon pollution.
The amended language read:
Democrats will immediately rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, commit the United States to doing its fair share and leading the world in the effort to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and convene a world summit aimed at new and more ambitious global targets to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
After the amendment was introduced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sunrise Movement leader Varshini Prakash spoke in favor of the amendment. It passed unanimously and gave the impression that progressives were making real milestones in advancing the Democratic Party Platform on the topic of climate.

The reality is that the amendments that really changed things were dropped or watered down.


The fossil fuel industry has been purposely misleading the public on the topic of global warming since scientists started talking about it back in the 70’s. The most comprehensive body of research that I have read on the topic has been produced by investigative journalist, Amy Westervelt in her podcast, “Drilled.” She documents how the fossil fuel industry used countless op-ads, misleading research and paid media to convince the public that global warming is a hoax even while they were planning to build offshore oil rigs that accommodated for rising sea levels.

After decades of denial, the fossil fuel company is now coming up with their “solution” to global warming. It is commonly referred to as carbon capture and storage. They are using the same communication tactics that they used to mislead the American public for the last 40 years. If you google “carbon capture” you will find a host of fake environmental groups advocating for CCS. They have put a number of pro-fossil fuel scientists in front of a camera talking about how great CCS will be. The Carbon Capture Coalition is a fossil fuel organization that used to be called the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative that has been advancing CCS, tax credits and direct cash incentives for companies that capture and store carbon. Some environmental groups are even starting to embrace CCS even though it is relatively new, requires substantial energy to capture carbon, and very little research has been done to prove that it will efficiently remove carbon from the air.

The coalition and other CCS proselytizers have slipped language into bi-partisan spending bills that create 45Q tax credits that incentivize capturing carbon, enhanced oil recovery, and storing carbon underground. But there has been little accountability and/or oversight for companies that have claimed the tax credit. In May of this year, Senator Bob Menedez (D-NJ) got the IRS Inspector General to look into how or whether tax credit claimants were documenting their claimed CO2 storage. The IG found that most were not. The oil companies who took $1 billion in carbon capture tax credits under the “45Q” tax credit program neglected to document actual storage for $900 million of the tax credits they took. How is this not another blank-check bailout?

For those who are new to the CCS/EOR debate. Enhanced Oil Recovery is a process that oil companies have perfected over the past 30 years. I’m oversimplifying the technical aspects, but basically, they use water and CO2 to push more oil out of the ground. Normal drilling operations leave about 25% of the oil in the ground and EOR is a very expensive way to extract the last 25%. To make the process profitable, oil companies need federal subsidies. They found a way to justify the subsidies by using captured carbon from power plants to access cheap CO2. Now they are selling this approach to congress and the general public as something that will mitigate the climate crisis. It won’t even come close.

A review of the scientific literature by June Sekera has revealed that CCS/EOR generates more carbon than it removes. Plus, it does not reduce the amount in the atmosphere because, with this smokestack capture method, you can never bury more than you capture coming out of the smokestacks. Under the most optimistic of assumptions, and if the CO2 is simply stored and not sold for re-use, the best that CCS smokestack capture could possibly do is slow down the rate at which emissions are adding to the stock of CO2 in the atmosphere. Another reason that this plan will fail is because we don’t have a large-enough capacity to remove a meaningful amount of carbon with mechanical means. Operating at a climate-significant level would require as much infrastructure and pipelines as now exist for the oil and gas industry. And, even then, you’re not reducing atmospheric CO2, you’re just slowing its buildup, and even that’s not certain.

Another term that you need to become familiar with is Direct Air Capture (DAC). This mechanical-chemical method of carbon capture uses enormous fans to suck in air and then uses thermochemical processes to separate out the co2. A few DAC startup companies have been launched with money from venture capitalists and oil companies. Bill Gates has put money into one of these DAC businesses. The 45Q tax break also subsidizes DAC.

A Harvard scientist who’s been engaged in the Bill Gates-funded project, David Keith, was quoted laying out the vision for their DAC company, Carbon Engineering. A 2011 Fortune Magazine article described their business plan: the company would to build its first carbon-capture plants in places where there is cheap gas, cheap labor, cheap land, and ideally, a strong demand for CO2. Keith said: "If we can find all of those at once, we’re printing money.” This makes me wonder why organized labor is advocating so hard for DAC plants.

As it turns out, the company has partnered with Occidental Petroleum to build a DAC plant in the Permian Basin in Texas in order to do enhanced oil recovery. The business plan for this partnership relies on a variety of public subsidies for carbon capture. It also relies on a high price of oil, since the process is extraordinarily expensive, and given the recent price implosion, the planned operation and promised jobs may not materialize.

The huge fans and thermochemical processes for DAC require an enormous amount of energy and some have proposed using solar panels to power the fans and “make the process green.” Scientists have estimated that scaling the DAC process to remove 1 gigaton of CO2 would require 3,500 Twh of energy, which equates to nearly all the electricity generated in the United States in 2017. So let me get this straight. Instead of shutting down the coal plants and powering peoples’ homes directly with solar energy we are going to build massive solar farms to capture carbon that power plants still produce? How is this sane?

The land required is also extraordinary. To remove just 1 gigaton of CO2 would require a land area ten (10) times the size of Delaware. This estimate is based on information in a 2019 report by the National Academies of Sciences. (And this does not count the land area required for pipelines to transport of the captured CO2 or the tremendous underground space needed for geologic storage.)

So we cover large swaths of land with solar panels to remove 1 Gt of carbon. This is like draining an Olympic-sized swimming pool with a straw; consider that the United States produces 5 Gt of carbon per year and global CO2 production is 37 Gt. This has to be the most ludicrous idea ever presented by the techno-utopians who miss the obvious, straightforward solutions. Instead consider a simple three-pronged approach that better utilizes taxpayer money to benefit working families and the environment.
Prong one involves incentivizing and mandating energy efficient commercial and residential building standards and renovations. We also need to move quickly to electric vehicles or carbon free transportation.
Prong two involves keeping fossil fuels in the ground and pursuing alternative energy like solar and wind and integrating them into an improved power grid as rapidly as possible.
Prong three involves using foreign trade agreements to leverage changes in other heavy carbon-producing countries like India and China.
These three prongs are oversimplified and of course there are other excellent ideas that need to be part of the discussion, like a carbon tax to pay for the aggressive changes that are needed to address the climate crisis.

Like Patrisse I thought that we would have a real, substantive discussion on climate. Below are the other amendments that I proposed that were dropped without my consent. All of them were designed to move the country in the right direction on climate. Unfortunately, we are going to have to find a new strategy.
I Move to Amend page 45, Line 36 to exclude the words, “and carbon capture and storage.”

To replace the words on page 48, line 25, “direct air capture and net negative emissions technologies” with the words, “and technologies that support and enhance proven biological methods of carbon drawdown and sequestration.”

To amend the words on page 48, line 27 to read, “including requirements that industries utilize carbon capture and sequestration that permanently stores greenhouse gases without prior utilization for enhanced oil recovery.”
As we approach this critical election it is important that Democrats be the party of climate scientists, not oil profiteers. That we be the voice of reason in healthcare coverage as many lose their jobs and insurance during this pandemic.

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At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the point of voting for Democrats if they are going to screw us like Republicans?

At 7:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ultimate sheepdoggery: "As we approach this critical election it is important that Democrats be the party of climate scientists, not oil profiteers. That we be the voice of reason in healthcare coverage.."

But, as you have already proved, they shall never be that party. Hell, they can't even be bothered to lie by putting those planks in something as worthless as the party platform!

So... why bother keeping it around? You think it will get better over time? they've been getting worse since 1972 for fuck's sake!

At 9:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

cagey democraps still courting those mythical moderate republican voters, I see.

still giving both middle fingers to all progressives too, I see.

Kind of makes Bernie smell pretty bad, don't it?

At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

George Galloway had put Bernie on his Wall of Fame in honor of the efforts of his campaign. Galloway removed Bernie when it was clear that he had abandoned his followers and sold them out to the Democrats.

Bernie is the first and only person to have Galloway's honofic bestowed and revoked.


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