Where Do Vice President Candidates Pence & Kaine Stand on Environment?
By John McReynolds, 08/13/2016
Dear EarthTalk: Where do the Vice President choices for the upcoming Presidential election (Tim Kaine and Mike Pence) stand in terms of environmental track record and commitment?
—Mitchell Finan, Butte, MT
Not surprisingly given the current political climate, the respective Vice Presidential candidates differ on most of the issues, including their policies on the environment and energy.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s VP choice Tim Kaine has opposed big oil companies since his career as Virginia State Senator. He first endorsed a “25% renewables by 2025” goal back in 2007, and has continued his staunch support ever since. He has been a champion of diversifying America’s energy portfolio. “We’re not going to drill our way out of the long-term energy crisis facing this nation and the world… we can’t keep relying oil,” said Kaine back in 2008. He reinforced this position again in his 2012 Senate race by arguing against tax subsidies for major oil companies.
As far as environmental protection, he has not shown much of a track record in support or against. In May of 2013, he did vote affirmatively on a bill to protect ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which puts out an annual national environmental scorecard for politicians, has attributed a 91 percent lifetime score to Kaine, clearly naming him as one of our nation’s leading politicians. More recently, in late 2015, Kaine voted against a bill that attacked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon pollution limits. Of course, a Republican dominated Congress passed the bill anyway, although President Obama quickly vetoed it to maintain stricter limits on carbon pollution.
Across the aisle, Donald Trump’s VP selection, Mike Pence, lacks any sort of environmental agenda in his political career. The LCV gives him a lifetime score of only four percent, meaning he is no friend of the environment. Pence, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001-2013 when he assumed the Indiana governorship, voted against a “Cash for Clunkers” recycling program in 2009 and also voted no on a bill improving public transportation in 2008. Meanwhile, he voted affirmatively for deauthorizing critical habitat zones and approving forest thinning projects in 2005 and 2003, respectively.
As for energy policy, Pence supported the “25% renewable energy…” goal in 2007 like his opponent Kaine. However, since then, he has supported offshore drilling, opposed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases and voted without any environmental conscience. He also voted against incentives for alternative fuels, for the construction of new oil refineries, and against criminalizing oil cartels such as OPEC.
“I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming,” Pence stated in 2009. His record of the environment since then reflects his continued skepticism toward environmental protection efforts.
For environmentalists, Kaine is the obvious choice over Pence, which is no surprise given the Presidential candidates who selected each of them as running mates. While Hillary Clinton may have focused more attention on other political issues over her career, she has continuously supported environmental protection and the transition away from fossil fuels, while Donald Trump has fought environmental restrictions on his ability to operate his real estate empire and recently told reporters he would consider reneging on U.S. commitments to reduce greenhouse gases made at the recent Paris climate summit.
Has The Fracking Industry Already Won The 2016 Election?
By Farron Cousins, June 27, 2016 – 14:46
June has been a fantastic month for the fracking industry.
On June 21st, a federal judge ruled that the Interior Department does not have the authority to regulate fracking on federal lands because the agency lacks the overall authority to regulate fracking. The judge said that his decision was based on the fact that Congress had not given the agency that power, and therefore they overstepped their authority in attempting to regulate natural gas fracking activities.
A few days after that court ruling that gave the industry free rein over our federal lands, the Democratic Party handed them an even larger gift. At a DNC platform committee meeting on Friday, June 24th, the committee voted to NOT include a ban on fracking as part of the Democratic Party’s platform for the 2016 election.
The moratorium on fracking was proposed by 350.org founder Bill McKibben who was selected to join the Party’s platform committee by Senator Bernie Sanders. McKibben also introduced resolutions to support a carbon tax and prohibit new fossil fuel leases offshore and on federal lands, but these items were also nixed by a majority of the committee members.
The decision by the committee to roll over for the fracking industry is not only dangerous for the environment, but it also goes against the will of voters who identify as Democrats.
The most recently available polls on national support for fracking (from March 2016) show that 51% of Americans are opposed to it, versus only 36% who are in favor. In the poll, 13% of respondents had no opinion. Not surprisingly, the poll found that approval for fracking was higher among Republicans than Democrats, with 55% and 25% of each Party approving of the practice, respectively.
In the political world, polls are fairly easy to ignore, and both major parties are guilty of routinely ignoring polling data. But in early June, anticipating a showdown over fracking, environmental groups delivered more than 90,000 petitions to the Democratic National Committee asking for the Party to support a ban on fracking. Laying out fracking as both an environmental and economic disaster, these groups were hoping to head off the fracking fight and put an end to it before it began.
“This is the face of fracking in America: Latino, Native, African American and other communities are disproportionately impacted by the toxic effects of fracking and its infrastructure…It’s time for the DNC, a political party that is totally dependent on the participation of People of Color, to show that our health is as important as our votes. Including a fracking ban in the party platform is an essential step to demonstrate this.”
Not only did the leadership of the Democratic Party decide to ignore polls that spelled out the desires of their own Party, but they also completely disregarded direct pleas from their own supporters to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and put an end to the fracking boom in the United States.
As is often the case, the people in the United States lost out because of the influence that money has over our politics. Back in May, Lee Fang and Zaid Jilani with The Intercept pointed out that former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell — who is serving as the Chairman of the Host Committee for the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia — wrote a pro-fracking op-ed for the New York Daily News while he was a paid consultant for a firm with investments in fracking companies.
Getting beyond the actual convention, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, has been a huge proponent of fracking and has personally taken in more than $7 million from the oil & gas industries for her campaign. Even more troubling, according to reports, during her tenure as Secretary of State, she helped spearhead a global campaign to bring fracking to other parts of the globe.
President Obama’s attitude towards climate and energy has been an “all of the above” approach that has relied on both renewables and fossil fuels (with increased fossil fuel production becoming a hallmark of the administration.) But with climate change accelerating faster than previously predicted, the United States cannot afford another four years of “all of the above,” but it is increasingly looking like that will be the scenario after this year’s election.
If the fracking industry thought that June was a good month, they can expect a lot more good news in the future as long as they keep that corporate campaign funding flowing. The only thing that will suffer will be the future of the planet.
Can the U.S. really go frack-free? Sanders, Clinton take aim at hydraulic fracturing
By Rob Nikolewski, March 19, 2016 5 p.m.
Earlier this month, both candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for president took shots at “fracking” — hydraulic fracturing, the process that extracts oil and natural gas by using high-pressure liquids to break through shale rock formations.
In a March 6 debate, Hillary Clinton said, “By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”
“My answer is a lot shorter,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, said. “I do not support fracking.”
All three Republican candidates for president support hydraulic fracturing.
The presidential race amplifies a debate that’s more complex than the typical struggle between industry and the environment.
On a warming planet, does fracking keep the nation’s energy mix chained to fossil fuels and further delay a future where clean energy sources dominate? Critics say it does.
However, the fracking boom also is largely responsible for utilities’ accelerating shift from coal-fired power plants to cleaner-burning natural gas generators. Meanwhile, there’s fierce debate about potential threats to ground water and methane leaking into the atmosphere.
Less controversial is the energy industry’s economic and geopolitical importance. In less than 10 years, hydraulic fracturing – along with the technology of horizontal drilling – has dramatically increased oil and gas production, making the United States an energy power that has rivaled, and by some measures surpassed, countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia.
A ban on fracking “would be great for for the Middle East and terrible for the U.S.,” said Sabrina Demayo Lockhart, communications director for the California Independent Petroleum Association. “Hydraulic fracturing has given the U.S. an affordable, reliable energy resource.”
But Dan Jacobson, legislative director for Environment California, said a growing renewable energy market makes the prospect of going frack-free seem not so far-fetched.
“If someone said we’re not there yet, I’d say the science seems to indicate and reports indicate that we are there,” Jacobson said.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated on Tuesday that production from hydraulically fractured wells made up about half of total U.S. crude oil production.
Renewable energy may be growing but the same agency last year projected that 62 percent of U.S. energy consumption will come from a combination of oil and natural gas in 2040.
And while the Obama administration has sought stricter regulations for fracking on federal lands, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year released a study saying it did not find evidence that fracking “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”
U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has promoted an “all of the above” energy program that includes natural gas as a bridge fuel to help the U.S. reduce its reliance on coal and boost clean energy sources.
“If the wells are drilled and treated appropriately, we know how to do that part of it,” said DOE undersecretary Franklin Orr, who was in San Diego earlier this week, talking to clean energy business leaders.
“If the formation is a deep one and the hydraulic fracturing can be kept in the zone where it’s supposed to be, I don’t think there’s any question that it can be done in a way that it can be operated safely and do so in the long term,” Orr said.
But a number of environmental groups insist taking fracking off the table is a realistic, near-term scenario.
“We couldn’t do it tomorrow but by 2030, 2040, 2050 we could be meeting our energy needs, and we could be moving our transportation system off of fossil fuels,” Jacobson said in a telephone interview from his office in Sacramento. “It’s certainly possible. The question is, do we have the political will to get it done?”
Jacobson points to Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal to get California to derive 50 percent of all its electric power from clean energy sources by 2030, just 14 years from now.
“California’s got (nearly) 40 million people,” Jacobson said. By 2030 “that’s going to be like 20 million people getting 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy sources … So all we need is for the other states to adopt programs that are similar to California’s and we can easily get there.”
But others dismissed the comments by Sanders and Clinton.
“I’m hoping that’s just political, rhetorical arguments,” said Octávio Simões, president of the Sempra LNG & Midstream unit of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, which has made considerable investments in natural gas infrastructure in North America.
Calling the comments “irresponsible,” Simões said hydraulic fracturing has saved consumers money at the gas pump, reduced heating and cooling costs through low natural gas prices, and helped the U.S. reduce CO2 emissions.
“Ultimately, the customers are seeing the impact, and no politician likes to be tied to the impacts of one, higher carbon emissions, two, higher costs of energy and, three, more dependency on foreign oil and foreign gas,” Simões said. “Come on, it just doesn’t seem right.”
In theory, California’s Monterey Shale formation in the central San Joaquin Valley holds nearly 14 billion barrels of oil, making it the nation’s largest reserve. But 96 percent of its oil and gas isn’t recoverable using current technology, EIA analysts said in 2014, and the cratering price of oil have blunted efforts to improve its prospects.
According to the California Department of Conservation, hydraulic fracturing occurred in California 1,004 times between Jan. 1, 2014 through Sept. 30, 2015, almost exclusively in Kern County.
Polls indicate a majority of Californians want stricter rules or a moratorium on fracking.
Although the well responsible for the massive natural gas leak in Porter Ranch in Los Angeles that led to the displacement of residents of nearly 3,400 households was tapping an underground storage formation (and not fracked), the incident has fueled more complaints about natural gas production.
Two states have banned fracking — Sanders’ home state of Vermont, which has no natural gas or oil reserves, and New York, where Clinton served as a U.S. senator.
Brown has resisted calls from environmentalists to ban fracking, but regulations passed in 2013 require California producers to apply for permits, disclose what chemicals they use, notify neighbors before drilling and monitor ground water and air quality.
“The industry is essentially regulated on a state-by-state basis,” said Nicole Decker, equity sector analyst at UBS Wealth Management Research. “It’s not really left to the federal government.”
A president committed to getting rid of hydraulic fracturing would have considerable political hurdles to clear, including getting both houses of Congress, currently with Republican majorities, to agree to a ban.
However, the chief executive could make life difficult for the oil and gas industry by issuing executive orders and prompting the EPA to adopt stricter regulations.
Some have brought up concerns that an outright ban could, ironically, lead to the country using more coal.
Natural gas produces about 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide than coal, and the conversion of coal-fired power plants to natural gas-fired facilities has been attributed to helping the nation reduce its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP.
“In the present legislative and regulatory environment, any severe curtailing of natural-gas fracking would just lead to a bounce back of coal, not an expansion of renewables,” said Ray Pierrehumbert, a geophysicist at the University of Chicago, told the decidedly left-of-center magazine Mother Jones.
Fracking critics point to the technique’s association with leaks of methane, a gas that has an impact on climate change more than 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, according to the EPA.
It’s been estimated that 107,000 tons of methane leaked at Porter Ranch, the greenhouse gas equivalent of the output of 572,000 cars in a year.
A recent study suggested the EPA has not been properly calculating how much methane released during fracking affects the nation’s greenhouse-gas footprint.
Another paper presented to the Committee on Climate Change says fracking has produced such high emissions of methane that natural gas is worse for the environment than coal.
But last week, a study released by the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research attributed higher levels of methane in the atmosphere since 2007 to agricultural practices, not fossil fuel production.
“Our data indicate that the source of the increase was methane produced by bacteria, of which the most likely sources are natural, such as wetlands or agricultural, for example from rice paddies or livestock,” atmospheric scientist Hinrich Schaefer said in a NIWA news release.
Despite its critics, fracking has more than its share of supporters.
Combined with horizontal drilling technology, hydraulic fracturing has been attributed to an energy renaissance in North America that has swelled domestic production and made the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil.
For example, U.S. oil production in 2000 — before fracking was widely used — was about 5.8 million barrels a day. By 2015, it averaged 9.4 million barrels a day.
“I don’t see us taking that massive leap backwards and having the plug pulled, especially given that over the past several years the growth in the oil and gas industry (and) what is has done for our economy,” Decker of UBS said.
“I would certainly not support a doctrinaire, ‘no fracking, period’ (policy),” DOE undersecretary Orr said Monday.
But Jacobson of Environment California says time is on the side of fracking’s opponents.
“I was working on bills when they said California couldn’t get 20 percent of its electricity from clean energy sources like wind and solar and the lobbyists from the utilities said, ‘we can’t do it,’ ” Jacobson said. “We’ve always been told on the clean energy side we can’t do it and yet everyday we keep proving that we can do it.”