When it comes to energy and environmental policy, it doesn’t take an oracle to predict what the Republican Party platform will look like. Donald Trump gave a preview last week in North Dakota, where he called for rolling back environmental regulations and the international climate agreement reached in Paris last year; for a resurrection of the Keystone XL pipeline and the coal industry; and for a heck of a lot more drilling for “very, very pure, sweet, beautiful oil.” Trump’s vision hewed to Republican orthodoxy, and there’s little reason to think the platform will include any real surprises.
How the Democratic platform will address climate change and energy is a more interesting question. The 15-member drafting committee includes two climate experts: journalist and activist Bill McKibben, and Carol Browner, who directed the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy in the Obama White House and, before that, the Environmental Protection Agency. Their presence on the committee, plus the fact the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have made fighting climate change a central point of their campaigns, means the platform will probably be more progressive on environmental issues than it was in 2012, when the Democrats emphasized an “all of the above” approach to energy that included expanded oil and gas drilling.
Environmental groups are pushing for a platform that is bold and specific, with measurable goals rather than vague statements of intent. “It’s not enough for Democrats to just bash Republicans for being climate deniers,” said R..L Miller, the president of Climate Hawks Vote and chair of the California Democratic Party’s environmental caucus. Karthik Ganapathy of 350.org wrote in an e-mail that his organization is “interested in seeing Democrats formally make aggressive action to combat climate change a cornerstone of their party’s platform…. We’re interested in seeing ambition—not just vague platitudes about solar panels.”
There should be easy agreement on several climate and energy goals, including: that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and the Paris agreement should be defended and implemented; that the government should provide support for a “just transition” in coal-producing regions impacted by the collapse of that industry, and protect miners’ health benefits and pensions; that the country should invest more in clean energy and infrastructure, and do more for minority communities that are disproportionately impacted by pollution.
But there are still real differences within the party about how to kick the fossil-fuel habit, and how quickly. McKibben and Browner illustrate some of this tension. McKibben is a leader of the “keep it in the ground” movement, which advocates for cutting off the supply of fossil fuels and ending investment in related infrastructure, like the Keystone XL pipeline. Browner, on the other hand, served as “climate czar” for an administration that has focused almost exclusively on demand-side policies, like fuel-efficiency standards and clean-energy investments.