All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

Oil and coal lobbyists influencing Democrats to stay away from debate on climate change

The DNC’s climate problems run deep

By Jeremy Symons, The Hill, 06/18/19 06:00 PM EDT
The DNC's climate problems run deep
The DNC’s climate problems run deep © iStock

Defending his decision not to hold a presidential debate on climate change, Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez has exposed the great gulf between climate rhetoric and action within the Democratic Party machine.

Writing in Medium, Perez calls climate change “an urgent threat to our nation and our planet,” giving the obligatory nod to an issue that has risen to a top concern of Democratic voters in Iowa and across the nation.

Granting a climate debate would be unfair and unrealistic, he argues, because holding a debate on each and every issue would be infeasible. He says the DNC has received more than 50 requests to hold issue debates, but fails to mention that fifteen Democratic candidates have endorsed the call for a climate debate.

The DNC decision is an important wake-up call for climate donors and voters. Just because Democrats say climate change is an urgent threat does not mean they see it as more urgent than other issues.

The DNC’s inaction on a climate debate is especially troubling in light of the party’s long dependency on the fossil fuel lobby to fund conventions.

American Petroleum Institute (API), the top trade association for big oil and gas companies, stepped up with $700,000 for Democrats’ last convention in Philadelphia. That fell just a few money bags shy of the $900,000 API sent to the GOP.

According to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), API has spent more than $100 million lobbying Congress to “crush any pro-climate policies that might actually reduce carbon emissions” and threaten the bottom line of oil companies.

The coal lobby has also bellied up to the convention table. In 2012, the DNC publicly touted that it had  barred corporate contributions for the convention. In reality, they relied on Duke Energy, the nation’s second biggest carbon emitter, for a $6 million loan that Democrats never repaid.

At the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver, I was taken aback by the marketing extravaganza behind “clean coal,” a fictional product. “Regardless of who wins the election, we know that coal will still be running America,” proclaimed The American Council for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal industry trade association. ACCCE members Southern Company and Arch Coal contributed to the Democrats’ convention committee.

Fossil fuel trade associations are not letting up. They know that if climate change isn’t the Democrat’s top priority, then little will get done.

They aim to lull Democrats to sleep on climate, joining their Republican colleagues in action if not words by keeping climate on the back burner.

It’s a tempting lullaby for political operatives. The planet doesn’t have a bank account. Fossil fuel lobbyists pay well and pay often.

Last year, Perez momentarily seemed ready to bring needed change to the DNC. The DNC quietly passed a resolution sponsored by Christine Pelosi (daughter of Nancy Pelosi), that would have barred the DNC from accepting political contributions from fossil fuel PACs.

The DNC received swift backlash from labor, however. According to Perez, the resolution was perceived as “an attack on the working people” in energy industries.

Perez wrote a new resolution that passed the DNC overwhelmingly, reversing the prior funding ban and embracing money from all energy PACs.

A divisive battle between labor and environmentalists in 2018 would not have benefited anyone, but Perez’ swift and decisive intervention stands in stark contrast to his meek protests now that his hands are tied on a climate debate.

Alarmingly, Perez’ resolution also touted America’s “all of the above” energy economy.

The phrase first became prominent when Sarah Palin and John McCainused it to sum up their “drill baby drill” energy platform in 2008.

When President Obama later called for an “all of the above” energy approach, environmental leaders protested. In a letter to Obama, they argued that an “all of the above” energy strategy that boosts coal, oil and gas would undermine America’s climate goals.

The DNC struck the phrase from its platform in 2016.

The DNC’s zig-zagging climate and energy rhetoric is Exhibit A in the case for a climate change debate. Squeezing climate change into other debates will only allow time for rhetoric about the urgency of the problem. A focused, in-depth climate debate will allow voters to better gauge the substance and commitment behind the talking points.

When it comes to climate politics, commitment and priority is everything. Across three decades, political advisers have whispered in the ears of presidents, cautioning against taking on the combined might of the fossil fuel lobby. This is why we are where we are today.

In the DNC’s refusal to host a climate debate, we see an early warning signal of those whispers still at work despite unprecedented demand for results from voters.

By lumping climate change in with 50 unnamed issues, Perez misses the mark entirely. All issues are not equal.

A debate focused on preserving a livable planet is a debate on justice, economic opportunity, health, security and human rights.

When you are living on a boat, the value of all things changes if the ship starts to sink.

The same holds true for the planet we share. The physics of climate change are just as relentless and unforgiving as the rush of water through a hole in a boat’s hull. The climate clock is ticking.

If Democrats do not believe climate change is important enough to change their own rules now, can we count on them to summon the political moxy to do what needs to be done after our money and votes are secured?

Jeremy Symons is a consultant at Symons Public Affairs and writer on climate change, energy policy and politics. He previously worked as vice president for political affairs at Environmental Defense Fund and as deputy staff director on the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee.


    Democrats are seriously tackling the climate crisis: No more half-measures or neoliberal compromises

    At least seven 2020 candidates have serious climate plans — and they’re not bowing to fossil-fuel interests

    By Carl Pope, June 16, 2019 10:00AM (UTC)
    Jay Inslee; Beto O’Rourke; Joe Biden; Bernie Sanders (AP/Getty/Salon) / Elizabeth Warren; John Hickenlooper; John Delaney

    Already seven Democratic presidential hopefuls have offered detailed plans for confronting the climate crisis — including the two current (perceived) frontrunners, “moderate” Joe Biden and “progressive” Bernie Sanders, along with Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Jay Inslee, John Hickenlooper and John Delaney. (Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand have sponsored the Green New Deal resolution but have not yet released individual policies.)

    Media coverage has predictably focused on the horse race: What significance the increased salience of the issue has with primary voters, how the plans and candidates differ from each other, and whether there will or will not be a separate debate on climate. (At this writing, the Democratic National Committee still says there won’t be.)

    But from a climate perspective, what’s revealing (and fascinating) is the degree to which the candidates and their plans are, at heart, indistinguishable. As a group, none of these climate planks harken back to Barack Obama’s “all of the above” genuflection to the enduring political power of fossil fuels. Nor do they resemble Hillary Clinton’s 2016 proposals, which focused almost entirely on renewable power — ambitious but narrow. They eschew the carbon-pricing emphasis of many Beltway economists and policy mavens. And they avoid the austerity frame that climate deniers have for so long used to dampen public support for clean energy.

    Taken as a group, this year’s presidential climate proffers are far broader — and more economically and politically sophisticated — than four years ago. If they have a 2016 antecedent, it is Bernie Sanders’ approach, which culminated in Sanders’ successful effort to buttress the Democratic platform on climate by including ambitious greenhouse emission targets.

    But the Democratic candidates have also introduced some new ingredients, drawn heavily from the Green New Deal. Here’s what the emerging Democratic climate platform looks like, and why it’s important.

    1. Climate science and ambitious decarbonization goals are in.

    While avoiding the confusing Green New Deal language about decarbonizing the economy within a decade, almost all of the candidates commit to get the job done by mid-century. Inslee pledges net zero emissions by 2045, Biden and O’Rourke by 2050. Sanders and Warren offer no date, although Sanders in 2016 called for a 40% emission reduction by 2030.

    Fundamentally, all these Democrats are saying that we can and should, decarbonize our economy fully by mid-century, and the differences in their formal pledges are almost irrelevant this far in advance.

    2. Climate sacrifice and austerity are out.

    None of the candidates suggest that to accomplish this goal Americans need to sacrifice prosperity or freedom — instead they all call for tying a transition to clean energy to a major revitalization of the U.S. economy, with several specifically calling out manufacturing. So striking is this pattern that the New York Times complained about it.

    3. Investment, not carbon pricing, is the new silver bullet.

    Carbon taxes or “cap and trade” aren’t central to the candidates’ thinking. Delaney and perhaps Hickenlooper aside, those with detailed plans all implicitly turn to a mixture of carrots — R&D, investments, incentives — and sticks, meaning regulations and only perhaps some carbon pricing, to do the job. Inslee, having campaigned unsuccessfully for a carbon tax as governor of Washington, doesn’t repeat his call for one. Biden and O’Rourke call for some kind of mandatory mechanism, but don’t specify pricing. Warren and Sanders don’t mention it. Indeed, none of the leading candidates except Pete Buttigieg explicitly favors such a tax.

    The Green New Deal is the source of the single newest ingredient in the policies as a group — the emphasis on massive federal investment in place of carbon pricing. Again, the nominal size of investment varies. O’Rourke asks for $5 trillion, Warren $3 trillion and Biden $1.7 trillion. These numbers represent different program mixes and financial strategies. All a voter can truly discern from them is “I want the government to invest more in American climate progress and I think the number should be big, because the economic gains will be much bigger.” That’s a far cry from the language historically used to advocate carbon pricing.

    4. Standards and regulation are back.

    The idea of using emission standards as if climate were a pollution problem seems to have caught on. To begin with, all the Democratic presidential candidates support restoring Obama-era emission standards which Trump has rolled back or is trying to. Biden, Inslee, Sanders, O’Rourke and Warren explicitly call for additional regulations to get to zero emissions by 2050.

    Inslee and O’Rourke explicitly flag powerful regulatory mandates to decarbonize buildings, utilities and transportation; Biden focuses on transportation; O’Rourke on buildings; Sanders and Warren don’t address sectors.

    5. It’s not just electricity — economy-wide approaches are embraced.

    The emphasis on investment and regulations frees the candidates up to push for emissions reductions outside the electricity sectors. With those tolls the U.S. has clear pathways to 100% clean energy in three sectors of our economy: electricity generation, road and rail transportation, and buildings. Clean power is already cheaper almost everywhere than coal and natural gas; operating fleets of electric vehicles is cheaper than continuing to buy new gasoline or diesel models; and all-electric, hyper-efficient new buildings cost less to own and operate than leaky ones reliant on oil or natural gas for heating and cooling.

    Allowing time for turnover of power plants, vehicles and furnaces, all three of these sectors can be profitably transitioned to 100% clean electricity — so investing in speeding up the transition here with massive federal investments does, indeed, make marvelous economic sense.

    Biden and Inslee give the most detailed road maps, but the other candidates with plans seem headed in the same direction.

    Finally, research gets respect

    These presidential platforms emphasize the need for expanded clean energy research and development, along with deployment of the technologies we have already commercialized. The three sectors discussed above account for only 70% of our emissions.  pollution from the remaining 30% — industry, agriculture, aviation and shipping — requires new approaches and technologies, and significant federal support for research, development, and early stage deployment. All the Democratic candidates call for such investments, and all offer policies to ensure that along with clean energy comes a revival of American manufacturing.

    How do the politics look?

    The right wing and the carbon lobby seem to be teeing up their usual attack on climate advocacy: It will tank the economy and deprive Americans of economic freedom! Republican opponents of climate progress don’t seem to have realized that the Democrats, while raising their ambition on climate and clean energy, have walked away from the taxation, sacrifice and austerity traps. The right wing has attacked Biden, their current whipping boy, for offering a climate plan, suggesting that since swing voters don’t show the same level of interest in climate issues that Democrats do, Republicans will be able to play the climate austerity card against Biden — or any other Democratic nominee who dares to offer a real climate plan.

    The problem with this theory is that while swing voters may not prioritize climate, they love clean energy and they want more investment  in America — and that’s what Democrats are offering. Most of the Democratic candidates, Warren and Biden in particular, are focused on reviving manufacturing, the (broken) promise that carried the Midwest for Donald Trump in 2016.

    And from voices like Greenpeace, candidates are being ranked not only on their demand-side fossil fuel policies, but on where they stand on coal mining and oil and gas drilling and exploration.

    The Beltway establishment is complaining about this willingness of the Democratic presidential field to place carbon pricing where it belongs — as one of a series of needed market reforms that enable us to decarbonize, but not as a fetish totem in itself. Catherine Rampel in the Washington Post lamented this feature, calling a price on carbon “the obvious, no-brainer tool for curbing carbon emissions.”  But it appears the candidates have noted the fact that when given a chance to vote on pricing carbon, even Jay Inslee’s green constituents in Washington state twice politely demurred.

    In many ways, the Democratic field is following the pathway blazed by California under the governorships of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown. Let the public and the legislature set broad and ambitious climate goals. Then pragmatically deploy administrative rules and incentives to test and perfect pathways toward a clean energy economy. As that economy grows in strength, it will challenge and defeat the stranglehold that fossil fuel interests have held for a century over America’s future, and create the politics for a more ambitious next round of emissions reduction targets.

    Carl Pope is the co-author of “Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet.” He is the former CEO and chairman of the Sierra Club.

      Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick – PGE / Valero prepared for power shut-offs

      Questions on PG&E shut-offs prompt Benicia response

      Vallejo Times-Herald, June 15, 2019

      In response to question about PG&E’s public safety power shut-offs [PSPS’s] and their potential impact to the city of Benicia and the Valero Benicia Refinery, the Benicia Fire Department said Fire Chief Josh Chadwick has been working closely with the State Office of Emergency Services and PG& E to gather answers.

      Here is what is known at this time:

      • The power interruptions in Benicia on Monday and Tuesday were not related to a PG& E PSPS.

      • PSPSs are designed to shut power off in either the Elevated or Extreme California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Fire-Threat Districts. There are no CPUC Extreme Fire- Threat Districts in Solano County. The only Elevated Fire-Threat Districts in Solano are in North Vacaville near Lake Berryessa and in the West area of Green Valley.

      • Valero Refinery has two separate sources of power — one that comes in from the north and the other that comes in from the south. Their system is designed so that if one of the sources were to be shut off, the second source would be sufficient to keep the power to Valero uninterrupted.

      • Per PG& E, PSPS are essentially based on upcoming weather events and should not come without warning.

      • Unlike a sudden and unexpected power loss, with prior notice Valero has the ability to limit impacts through a controlled shut-down.

      • Portable generators would not have the capacity to provide sufficient power to supply the refinery.

      • There are numerous major commercial, industrial, and critical infrastructure facilities located throughout California which would be severely impacted by a loss of power. State OES personnel are currently working with the California Public Utilities Commission to address these facilities.

      To learn more about Public Safety Power Shutoffs, visit the PG& E PSPs webpage.

      Josh Chadwick, Benicia Fire Chief

      For more information, contact Josh Chadwick, Fire Chief at or (707) 7464275.