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The Democratic National Committee (DNC) will not let 2020 primary candidates share the stage in a debate devoted to the climate crisis, the party voted Saturday during its summer meeting in San Francisco.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Eoin Higgins
We want a climate debate.
That's the message from more than a dozen progressive groups and organizations who descended on the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Wednesday to demand the party devote a debate to the climate crisis in the presidential primary debates.
'This Is an Emergency. We Need the Democrats to Act Like It': Outrage as DNC Says It Won't Host a 2020 Debate on Climate Crisis
By Jake Johnson
Sparking a torrent of backlash from Democratic White House contenders, environmental organizations, and youth climate leaders, the Democratic National Committee announced Wednesday that it will not host a climate-specific presidential primary debate and will punish candidates who attend a debate hosted by any other organization.
That was fast. Just two months after the Democratic National Committee (DNC) unanimously prohibited donations from fossil fuel companies, the DNC voted 30-2 on Friday on a resolution that critics say effectively reverses the ban, The Huffington Post reported.
The resolution, introduced by DNC Chair Tom Perez, allows the committee to accept donations from "workers, including those in energy and related industries, who organize and donate to Democratic candidates individually or through their unions' or employers' political action committees" or PACs.
By Jake Johnson
A petition calling on 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to hold a climate-specific debate has garnered over 30,000 signatures in just around 48 hours, providing evidence of the widespread grassroots pressure on White House hopefuls to offer bold and detailed solutions to the ecological crisis.
The proposal was reportedly introduced by Christine Pelosi, a member of the DNC and the daughter of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
With the Democratic National Committee's sudden reversal on fossil fuel contributions last week, environmental advocates were relieved to see a number of climate champions emerge from Tuesday's midterm primaries.
A number of high-profile winners even signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge—an initiative of the young climate activist group Sunrise Movement—which demands politicians and their campaigns to not accept contributions over $200 from the PACs, executives or front groups of oil, gas or coal companies.
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With record-breaking hurricanes, furious wildfires and an ominous report from the United Nations that forecasts catastrophic climate change, it's more important than ever to vote for leaders who are defenders of the environment.
Thankfully, we have candidates running for all levels of government who will take a stand on these critical issues and are promising ambitious climate policies if elected.
By Lukas Ross, Friends of the Earth Action
The same day TransCanada sued the U.S. government for $15 billion, the Democratic Party's platform drafting committee met in Missouri. Between the two, there is a lesson to be learned about free trade and the climate crisis.
The lawsuit was the anticipated result of President Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline.Using a notorious provision in the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Canadian oil giant is hoping to claim $15 billion in lost future profits by dragging the U.S. before an international tribunal. These sorts of extra-judicial forums, where corporations can sue governments for enforcing their own laws, are a hallmark of established free trade deals like NAFTA and looming ones like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Forty environmental groups signed a letter urging Congress to reject the TransPacific Partnership. Dylan Petrohilos / Think Progress
The meeting in Missouri was to finalize a draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform, a usually sleepy and symbolic process that this year has exploded into a proxy fight between presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Pipelines like Keystone XL and free trade writ large were both on the agenda—and the votes cast reflect a growing divide between the party establishment and the grassroots.
Within hours of TransCanada filing its lawsuit under NAFTA, the platform committee had the chance to officially oppose the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, a Pacific Rim trade deal that would allow hundreds of new fossil fuel companies access to provisions similar to those used by TransCanada. The motion was rejected. Despite both candidates being on record opposing the current TPP, the motion was rejected in a 10-5 vote. It was supported by appointees from Sanders and opposed by appointees from Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Compromise language was offered instead, calling for trade deals that protect workers and the environment without mentioning the TPP by name.
Talking about responsible trade but refusing to be clear about the TPP isn't a good look, for the DNC or anyone else. If the TPP and its European counterpart, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, were both enacted, it would radically expand the power of fossil fuel companies to sue the U.S. for laws and regulations that hurt their expected future profits. The power to launch lawsuits like TransCanada's would be put on steroids and everything fromlocal fracking bans to renewable energy mandates could be litigated in trade tribunals run overwhelmingly by corporate lawyers.
Besides missing the boat on trade, the committee managed a few other favors for the TransCanadas of the world. Jane Kleeb, the founder of Bold Nebraska and the newly elected Chair of Nebraska Democrats, supported a motion calling for ending the use of eminent domain in support of fossil fuel projects. It was unceremoniously voted down. Another rejected motion was an endorsement of the so-called "climate test," the principle that infrastructure and other projects shouldn't be approved if they worsen carbon emissions. Applying this standard was what led President Obama to reject Keystone XL in the first place.
In fact, Friday turned out to be a bad night for serious climate policy all around. Motions pushed by Sanders's appointee Bill McKibben supporting a carbon tax and a national frackingban were both rejected. So too was a motion to keep fossil fuels in the ground by ending new leasing on our public lands and waters.
Even the ambitious energy target supported by both Clinton and Sanders—100 percent clean energy by 2050—wasn't an unqualified success. The language is vague enough that it could include everything from wind and solar to dangerous false solutions like biomass, carbon capture and sequestration and nukes.
The concern about what exactly counts as clean energy isn't unfounded. If Bill McKibben was chosen by Sanders as a progressive voice on climate, his alter ego appointed by Clinton is Carol Browner, a one-time Environmental Protection Agency administrator who splits her time these days between professional lobbying and pro-nuclear advocacy.
The good news is that Missouri isn't the end. The platform still needs to be approved by the full platform committee next month in Orlando and after that by the full convention in Philadelphia. When it comes to pushing back on trade and climate, there are still two more shots.
As philosopher Dr. Cornel West, another Sen. Sanders appointee, said as he abstained from the final vote, "Take it to the next stage."
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By Alyssa Figueroa, Breast Cancer Action
With all eyes on the presidential candidates during election season, the inaction of thousands of elected officials across the country on crucial issues like protecting public health can easily get lost amidst the spotlight. That's why the organization I work for, Breast Cancer Action, will soon join thousands of others in the streets before the Democratic National Convention to grab some of that light and shine it on one of the most critical issues of our time: the harmful health impacts from fracking and other forms of dangerous drilling.
From coast to coast, too many of our elected officials are failing to protect people from these toxic processes. Take Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf for example. Despite hundreds of confirmed cases of water contamination from fracking and studies finding residents who live near fracking wells have higher rates of health problems and hospitalizations, Wolf hasn't taken any meaningful steps to protect people's health.
Across the country in California, so-called climate leader Gov. Jerry Brown is no better. Even after the recent gas leak in Porter Ranch, California— the largest in U.S. history—left hundreds sick, Brown failed to call for an end to fracking and dangerous drilling in the state, let alone the shutdown of the storage facility in the city that was responsible for leaking the fracked gas.
This is despite the fact that fracking and other forms of extreme extraction use hundreds of chemicals that are linked to a host of severe health problems. Twenty-five percent of fracking chemicals cause cancer (including breast cancer), more than 30 percent affect the endocrine system, 40-50 percent cause nervous, immune and cardiovascular problems and more than 75 percent affect the skin, eyes and other sensory organs and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. And that's just an assessment of the chemicals we know of. Because of industry loopholes throughout the country, the oil and gas industry is not required to list all the chemicals and mixtures they use.
Yet, the oil and gas industry and the elected officials in their pockets, still claim that there's not enough scientific evidence that shows that these chemicals used in their processes actually end up endangering people's health. But the truth is that the science is very much in: these toxic chemicals leach into our drinking water, poison our air and ultimately harm our health.
A recent 2016 peer-reviewed scientific paper on more than 650 peer-reviewed studies on drilling and fracking from 2009-2015 illustrates the scale of the risk. Its analysis showed that 64 percent of all the studies found potential and actual cases of water contamination, while 87 percent found elevated air pollutant emissions. The paper also analyzed the studies that specifically researched health impacts and found that 84 percent contained “findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks or adverse health outcomes."
Sadly, it is not just the science that's illustrating the health risks—people are experiencing health harms from these toxic processes every day. Low income-communities and communities of color often bear a disproportionate burden of these health harms. In fact, fracking executives were recently caught saying that they targeted low-income communities because they didn't have the money to fight back. Nausea, nosebleeds, migraines, rashes, hair loss and respiratory problems are just some of the short-term illnesses and effects these communities have to deal with daily. For example, Kern County, California, is a predominantly low-income, Latino county where about 95 percent of the state's fracking takes place. 22 percent of the children who live there have asthma, which is more than three times the national average.
These short-term health problems can be early signs of long-term illnesses, like breast cancer, to come. In fact, a new report on air pollution from the oil and gas industry found that 238 counties in 21 states face a cancer risk that exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency's threshold level of concern. The report states that these counties “are generally located in states with the greatest amount of oil and gas infrastructure."
This growing scientific evidence of harm is what led New York State to ban fracking. Now, the rest of the nation needs to not only follow suit by banning fracking, but also by banning other related extraction techniques that harm health.
The time for our elected officials to put public health before oil and gas industry profit is now. But they clearly won't do that on their own. We have to demand it. That's why we will be marching this July 24 in Philadelphia, where the Democratic National Convention is set to take place the next day, to tell all of our leaders to enact a nationwide ban on fracking and dangerous drilling.
We'll be joined by health professionals and other health organizations in this March for a Clean Energy Revolution calling for an end to these dirty energy sources that harm our health. Join us at the march and stand together with Breast Cancer Action in demanding a healthier, less toxic future—where no one has to worry that the water they drink and air they breathe will make them sick.
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"I'm thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine," presumptive Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted at 8:11 p.m. Friday.
Though the news was not a surprise, as Kaine has long been known as a likely choice, Clinton's pick stirred immediate reaction among the environmental movement. The Virginia senator supports fracking and offshore oil drilling, but was an early opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline.
350 Action Director May Boeve shared her concern of Clinton's vice presidential pick.
"Tim Kaine won't energize the climate base, so it's up to Hillary to start staking out some clearer positions," Boeve said. "Kaine was with us on Keystone XL, but against us on offshore drilling and fracking. This November, climate activists, young people, and progressives will turn up at the polls for candidates who say the magic words, 'keep it in the ground.' If Democrats want to drive turnout, it's time to come out more clearly against drilling, fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure."
On Sunday at 1 p.m., one day before the Democratic National Convention begins in Philadelphia, thousands of people will take part in the March for a Clean Energy Revolution calling for a ban on fracking. The march is organized by Americans Against Fracking and Pennsylvanians Against Fracking and backed by more than 900 organizations across all 50 states.
"Hillary Clinton's vice president and entire administration should be committed 100 percent to combating catastrophic climate change by keeping fossil fuels in the ground, supporting renewable energy and protecting our democracy from corporate influence," Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard said.
"It's clear from the polling that Secretary Clinton needs the progressive wing to vote in force if she's going to win in November, so Tim Kaine must show himself from the start that he'll use his office to be a climate champion," Leonard continued.
"He showed he could do this when he became an early opponent of the Keystone Pipeline, but Kaine's opposition to regulating fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and his support for natural gas exports and pipelines, prove he still has a long way to go. Clinton's positions on fracking may have progressed during her candidacy, but the climate movement will continue to push her and her running mate until they pledge to keep all fossil fuels in the ground."
Sierra Club's Executive Director Michael Brune feels "Secretary Clinton's selection of Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate completes the strongest environmental ticket we've ever seen." When comparing Clinton's campaign to Donald Trumps, Brune said, "The Democratic ticket is in sharp contrast to the Republican's, which features not one but two climate deniers, a first in American history. The Trump-Pence regime would be the only world leaders to hold that position. Simply put, a Trump-Pence Presidency wouldn't be the only 'TPP' that would destroy our climate."
The issue of climate change received a fair amount of attention on the first day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC).
Bernie Sanders reaffirmed his endorsement of Hillary Clinton, saying, "This election is about climate change, the greatest environmental crisis facing our planet, and the need to leave this world in a way that is healthy and habitable for our kids and future generations. Hillary Clinton is listening to the scientists who tell us that—unless we act boldly and transform our energy system in the very near future—there will be more drought, more floods, more acidification of the oceans, more rising sea levels."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren mentioned how huge energy companies have been allowed to destroy the environment due to governmental dysfunction and how a lack of unity among citizens allows oil companies to "fight off clean energy."
Al Gore also endorsed Clinton based in part on her climate stance.
During the day, environmental groups, business groups and politicians gathered for events outside the DNC in Philadelphia to discuss climate change and politics.
For a deeper dive:
Germany, the fourth largest economy in the world, has essentially banned fracking. And if that's not enough good news for a clean energy future, its capital city Berlin is also pulling its money out of coal, gas and oil companies.
Friends of the Earth Germany, alongside allies and German brewers, called for a ban on fracking outside of the German parliament April 28.Photo credit: Friends of the Earth Germany
Last Friday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition of Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats passed legislation amending natural gas extraction rules in ways which effectively bans shale gas hydraulic fracturing, Bloomberg reported.
Bloomberg reported that Merkel's government made the decision after siding with environmental groups concerned with the environmental costs of fracking, a process which releases oil and gas locked deep underground.
The decision comes after years of debate on the issue. Before deciding on a ban, German law had previously permitted unconventional fracking even though no drilling permits have ever been approved. The fossil fuel industry, including ExxonMobil and Wintershall (Germany's largest crude oil and natural gas producer), had sought licenses for exploration and heavily lobbied for fracking to remain within the country even though Germans are widely against the controversial technology.
Germany's fracking ban is a big step towards a decarbonized economy. However, some environmental groups have criticized the government for not going far enough, as the fracking moratorium does not outlaw conventional drilling for oil and gas. Individual states can also decide if it wants to frack or not. Here's a copy of the draft amendment posted by Bloomberg:
- Ban uncoventional fracking nationwide excepting 4 test probes for scientific purposes. Lawmakers to review the ban in 2021.
- Give Germany's 16 state govts a veto right in whether to allow conventional fracking on their territory. Conventional drilling not permitted in zones supplying water for consumption.
"It is not a real ban on fracking what they decided," Greenpeace campaigner Christoph von Lieven told oil and gas publication Upstream. "The Bundestag decided that fracking will be allowed. Not banned."
Friends of the Earth Germany also told Reuters that the ban is not permanent since it will be reviewed in five years in 2021. "The coalition's agreement on a fracking permission law is hair-raising," said Hubert Weiger, head of the environmental group. "The law must be stopped and replaced with a true fracking ban."
While the reservations are valid, Germany has taken great strides as a renewable energy powerhouse. The country's Energiewende initiative aims for a nearly carbon-free economy by 2050. In fact, renewables supplied nearly 33 percent of German electricity in 2015, and last month—on a particularly sunny and windy day—Germany's renewable energy mix of solar, wind, hydropower and biomass generated so much power that it met 88 percent of the country's total electricity demand, or 55 GW out of 63 GW being consumed, meaning it generated so much clean power the country was paying people to use it.
On the same week that the country decided on a fracking moratorium, Berlin's House of Representatives voted last Thursday to divest from fossil fuel companies.
According to Fossil Free Berlin, the new investment policy will ban coal, oil and gas companies from the city's €750 million pension fund, which includes shares in companies such as RWE, E.ON and Total.
"Berlin's decision to blacklist fossil fuel companies is the latest victory for the divestment movement, which serves to remove the social licence from companies whose business model pushes us into climate catastrophe," said Christoph Meyer a campaigner with the group. "We will keep a close eye on the administration to make sure it upholds today's commitment and urge the city to now take quick steps to break its reliance on coal power."
Divestment is expected to begin January 2017. Berlin, which also has a goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050, is now the seventh major city to divest following Paris, Copenhagen, Oslo, Seattle, Portland and Melbourne, Huffington Post noted.
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By Andy Rowell
According to a new analysis, the U.S. now holds more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia and Russia, the first time this has happened. And more than half of the U.S.'s remaining oil reserves are in shale oil.
The analysis, by Rystad Energy, has concluded that recoverable oil in the U.S. from existing fields, discoveries and yet undiscovered areas is equivalent to 264 billion barrels, which easily beats Saudi Arabia's 212 billion barrels and just squeezes past Russia's 256 billion.
Photo credit: Paul Lowry
The crux though will be whether the U.S. shale industry can access the finance to carry on exploiting shale. And that remains to be seen.
The mini-revival in the oil price may be over. Having rallied since its low point earlier in the year of $27, oil had reached the $60 a mark, but has slipped back to below $50 a barrel on concerns about a slowdown in the global economy has increased.
And those looking for a rapid increase in the next few months look set to be disappointed. The CEO of the world's largest oil trader, Vitol, which trades about 6 million barrels a day, has told Bloomberg that oil prices will not rise much further over the coming months.
Vitol's boss, Ian Taylor said: "I cannot see the market really roaring ahead. We have a lot of oil in the system and it will take us considerable time to work that off."
The international benchmark will probably end the year "not too far away from where we are today" and rise to about $60 by the end of 2017, Taylor said.
According to Bloomberg: "The wild card for next year is U.S. shale supply, which appears to have reached a bottom, but it's too early to say whether growth will resume."
But shale growth is not looking certain, with the industry still struggling with a low oil price and access to financing. And one of the key way to access financing is via bond sales.
As the Financial Times reported: "Bond sales by U.S. independent oil and gas companies have fallen to their slowest rate for more than a decade, in a warning sign of financing constraints that could hold back the industry's recovery."
In the second quarter of this year, the U.S. shale sector sold a paltry $280m of bonds in the second quarter, making it a slower period than any since the financial crisis of 2008-09.
In contrast, the paper points out, the industry raised almost $860bn from bond sales and bank loans during the boom years of 2007-2014. It is an industry still sitting on a crumbling pile of debt.
And the bottom line is that the industry is still spending more than it is earning. According to the FT, the leading U.S. exploration and production companies cut their capital spending to $14.9 billion in the first quarter of this year, which is a whopping $10 billion more than they earned.
This is totally unsustainable and will constrict the smaller players from accessing bonds and finance. Gary Ross of Pira Energy told the FT: "It's not going to be easy to reconstruct this industry."
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A new analysis released today by Ceres shows that many of the nation's largest electric utilities and their local subsidiaries are moving toward lower carbon fuel sources and that ambitious state policies and strong corporate demand for renewable energy are key drivers of this trend.
The 2016 Benchmarking Utility Clean Energy analysis ranks the 30 largest electric utility holding companies and their 119 subsidiary companies, which collectively account for about 60 percent of U.S. retail electricity sales. The results show overall advances on renewable energy and energy efficiency in 2014, the latest year for which data is available, with some utilities producing 25 to 35 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewables.
Wide disparities in the utilities' clean energy performance remain, however, underscoring the need for swift implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan. The plan reduces carbon emissions from electric power plants by 32 percent by 2030.
"Renewable energy and energy efficiency, key building blocks of the Clean Power Plan, are increasingly cost-effective options for electric utilities looking to lower their carbon emissions," said Dan Bakal, director of electric power programs at Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability advocacy organization.
"Our analysis shows that the U.S. electric sector is in the midst of an unprecedented shift toward clean energy resources and that state policies are critical for continued progress in achieving national and international climate goals."
Utilities with the strongest results were typically in states with strong clean energy policies, such as Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts and California. The lowest-ranked utilities were mostly in southeast states, such as Alabama and Mississippi, which have weak state policies.
Top and Bottom Ranked U.S. Investor-Owned Electric Utilities on Clean Energy Deployment
Among the 30 holding companies, Sempra, PG&E, Edison International and Xcel ranked the highest for renewable energy sales, accounting for more than half of the total sales. Renewable resources made up more than 20 percent and in Sempra's case, nearly 36 percent, of the companies' sales in 2014. FPL, American Electric Power, ConEdison and PPL Corp ranked at the bottom, with renewable energy sales accounting for less than two percent of their total retail electricity sales.
Sempra Energy's renewable energy sales grew by more than 55 percent between 2013 and 2014 alone and Pinnacle West's grew by nearly 50 percent, while Eversource and DTE Energy demonstrated growth of more than 25 percent.
"Xcel Energy's positive ranking results from more than a decade of working with our states on clean energy policies," said Frank Prager, vice president, policy and federal affairs for Xcel Energy. "We continue to focus on our customers' growing desire for clean, renewable energy while demonstrating that we can successfully integrate these resources reliably and at a reasonable cost. It's an approach that is significantly reducing emissions and ensuring a more sustainable energy future for our communities."
"Californians care a lot about clean energy and we want to be an active partner in making the transition to a low-carbon economy as quickly as possible," said Melissa Lavinson, chief sustainability officer and vice president of federal affairs for PG&E. "Our showing in the Ceres rankings reflects our commitment to addressing the urgent challenge of climate change, while also helping our customers to use less energy and save money."
Energy efficiency top performers among the holding companies include Eversource Energy, PG&E, Portland General Electric, National Grid and Pinnacle West. Each achieved annual savings of at least 1.5 percent of their total retail electric sales, while also helping their customers save on their energy bills. Dominion Resources, FPL, Entergy and Southern Co and OGE Energywere among the weakest performers.
"Continued investment in energy efficiency and zero-carbon energy is central to Exelon's effort to build the next generation energy grid and drive the transition to clean energy," said Chris Gould, Exelon's senior vice president, corporate strategy and chief innovation and sustainability officer. "Exelon continuously works to identify new innovations and smart technologies to give customers greater access to clean energy and tools to help them use energy more efficiently."
Among the report's other key findings:
- The Clean Power Plan's key approaches to compliance, energy efficiency and renewable energy, are increasingly economically feasible options for electric utilities. Energy efficiency is the lowest-cost energy resource and renewable energy costs continues to decline dramatically.
- State policies are no longer the only driver of utility clean energy deployment. Companies with ambitious renewable energy sourcing goals are using their voice as major energy users to encourage utilities to offer more renewable energy. A consortium of major companies pledged not only to promote 60 gigawatts of new renewables development, but also to help overcome the barriers that complicate clean energy procurement. Companies are sourcing ever-greater amounts of clean energy directly from utilities.
- Performance is not the only measure of clean energy leadership, which should include utility support for clean energy policies. For example, National Grid and PG&E have been outspoken supporters of energy efficiency, while FirstEnergy has been a vocal critic of Ohio's energy efficiency policy and supported efforts to freeze the state's goals.
"Seeing the leaps the renewable energy leaders have made in just two years has been amazing," said Ron Pernick, managing director of Clean Edge, a clean-tech research and advisory firm, which co-authored the report with Ceres. "Governments, corporations and individual customers continue to demand clean, efficient energy and some utilities are answering that call."
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