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Open Letter: Democratic Party Failing On The Climate Crisis

Above photo: Sen. Mary Landrieu tours oil and gas infrastructure in LA to show support for fossil fuels.

Staff note: Below is a letter that we will hand deliver to the Democratic Party National Headquarters on Monday, Nov. 3. You are welcome to sign on. If you would like to do so, send an email to and list an organizational affiliation for identification purposes if you would like that to be listed or sign the petition below. Organizations are also welcome to sign on.

Join us at the headquarters on Nov. 3rd. Click here for more information.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Chair, Democratic National Committee
430 South Capitol St. SE
Washington, DC 20003


Dear Chair Wasserman Schultz:

The actions taken by the Democratic Party to address the climate crisis have not only been inadequate, they have been counterproductive. We are writing to let you know that Democratic Party candidates should not count on the support of voters who recognize the urgent need to put in place effective solutions to the climate crisis.

The Democratic Party’s support for the dirty energy industry’s “all of the above” energy strategy, mislabeling fracked gas and nuclear energy as ‘bridges to a clean energy economy’ and the increased export of dirty fuels have directly caused greater Greenhouse Gas emissions as well as harm to public health, the environment and the economy. The extreme extraction of fossil and nuclear fuels through unconventional methods such as hydrofracking and mountaintop removal have been and continue to be responsible for contamination of the air, land and water and significant suffering, disease and death. The transport of these substances by pipeline and train have caused further damage and leave communities at risk for catastrophic events such as major pipeline spills and oil train explosions.

While some in the Democratic Party acknowledge that the climate crisis is real, human-made and requires action, there has been no significant action taken by Democratic party officials. Instead, there is widespread support for hydrofracking for methane gas, mountaintop removal for coal and extraction of tar sands bitumen as well as seismic testing and drilling for off-shore oil. Democrats continue to financially support nuclear energy even though it adds to climate gases, is the most expensive source of energy, takes years to come online and creates environmental problems at every step, i.e. extraction of uranium, processing of uranium, production of energy and radioactive waste. At the same time, there has been inadequate support for wind, solar, ocean and other clean energy alternatives as well as decreasing wasted energy by improving efficiency.

Hillary Clinton is an example of the pathologic and dishonest approach of the Democratic Party. She correctly describes the climate crisis as “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world.” But she supports the disastrous “all of the above” energy strategy. She falsely describes methane gas as a “bridge energy” when the research shows that its extraction and use actually cause severe climate damage.  She goes on to cheer the rapid increase in oil and gas production and then says “This is a great economic advantage, a competitive advantage, for us. … We don’t want to give that up.” The attitude of putting profit before the necessity of saving the planet is exactly what is wrong with the Democratic Party.

Her dishonesty enters the realm of fiction; Clinton repeatedly tells a story of she and the President barging in uninvited on a meeting at the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 where China, Brazil, South Africa and India were discussing a climate proposal.  She paints herself as a hero when in fact the United States held the climate talks hostage in order to eliminate Kyoto’s binding standards and put in place weak, non-binding standards on climate gases. She does not mention, as shown by documents published by Wikileaks, that in reality the US had been spying on climate negotiators and knew what they were planning and that the US undermined progress on a climate accord in Copenhagen. Indeed, ever since that meeting, the US role, under Clinton’s leadership as Secretary of State, has been to prevent binding requirements on climate emissions. Rather than being a success on climate her tenure as Secretary of State has been a disaster of inaction at a time when urgent action was needed.

It is not only President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton but also key Democrats in Congress that are the problem.  A recent article in Inside Climate News summarized the role of Democrats in Congress writing: “if Democrats win the Senate by a slim margin, climate action could still be foiled for the next few years by members of their own party.”

The bottomline is that the Democratic Party is addicted to money from the oil and gas industry. Perhaps the best example is Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana who is the third highest recipient of money from the industry in Congress and is Chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. She will prevent any positive action on the climate crisis.

While Democrats try to use the false claim of “jobs” in their support for extreme extraction of carbon fuels, in fact the dirty energy economy produces fewer and more hazardous jobs than would a clean renewable energy economy. For example Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is pushing to be more supportive of coal than Mitch McConnell even though coal only creates 0.6% of employment in Kentucky. In reality, it is about taking money from the industry, a polite way of saying political corruption.

And, at the gubernatorial level there are many Democratic governors who have been terrible on extreme energy extraction, especially around fracking.

–         Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland has been laying the groundwork for widespread fracking and export of fracked gas in Maryland.  Like other governors he has put in place a moratorium on fracking while moving forward with fracking. These moratoriums seem to be little more than appeasing communities while the price of gas rises and a chance to put in infrastructure so they can move quickly toward fracking. Food and Water Watch reports O’Malley has hired John Quigley who led widespread fracking in Pennsylvania. A fracking commission O’Malley created has not reached conclusion yet but Maryland is moving forward with what they call “best management practices” for fracking to prepare to issue drilling permits.  Quigley has written a report that includes “comprehensive drilling plans” for fracking. And, O’Malley did not take action requiring a detailed environmental review of the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas export terminal and issued permits for a landing platform. O’Malley heads a new corporate-Democrat group called newDEAL which had a private meeting with the American Natural Gas Alliance recently. Again, Democratic political corruption is on the table.

–         Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado is an advocate of fracking and has argued that any restrictions on the industry could weaken his state’s economy.   He has even done all he can to undermine majority votes by communities opposed to fracking.

–         Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York’s administration has tampered with and delayed a federal U.S. Geological Survey fracking study in 2011 to downplay or erase the original descriptions of environmental and health risks associated with fracking. There are 137 pipelines, compressor stations, frack waste or storage facilities that are proposed, under construction or in operation in New York.

–         Governor Jerry Brown of California has claimed “A key challenge facing California is not just drought today. It’s climate change, now and forever.” While Governor Brown can cite lots of advances on climate change, his support for fracking for oil (not gas in California) undermines everything he has done and makes him unacceptable to climate justice advocates. The Monterey Shale is an oil deposit nearly half the size of Saudi Arabia’s oil supply. Extracting that oil is another climate tipping point. That oil must stay in the ground. Like other Democrats, money comes before planet or as Gov. Brown said fracking is “a fabulous economic opportunity that he has to balance against his commitment to climate protection.” He has gotten the balance wrong. Brown has the power through executive action to stop fracking, but instead has given it a green light

These are a few examples among many. In all of these cases there is strong community opposition to fracking. In some states communities have voted for bans. In others the local Democratic Party has called for fracking bans. And, in others there have been ongoing protests. Because of the quest for campaign money that corrupts the Democratic Party, the people are ignored. Democracy and the environment are undermined.

While candidates and legislators in the Democratic Party recognize, at least rhetorically, the urgent need for action on the climate crisis, there is insufficient action – if any. Here is what the science says we need: by 2018, we must not produce any more gas-fueled cars or build any new power plants or buildings of any kind unless they are replacing old ones or are carbon-neutral. If the Democratic Party wants the support of voters on climate, they need to put forward policies that achieve that goal.

Majorities of people in the United States agree more action is needed to stop fracking, even in energy producing states. In Kentucky, 56% of voters say they believe the US government should do more to address climate change, according to the Stanford survey; in West Virginia, 63% and in Louisiana 54%. The Democrats need to side with the people, not the oil and gas industry.

Until the Democratic Party leads on the critical issue of climate change, it should not expect support from climate justice advocates. The time is now to act on drastic reductions of energy consumption, improved efficiencies and rapid transition to a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy. This is achievable with current energy technologies. The Democratic Party needs to lead to a climate justice future and break from the dirty energy of the past.

As the 400,000 people on the streets of New York for the People’s Climate March indicated, the size and commitment of the climate justice movement is rapidly growing. Siding with the fossil fuel industry is no longer the path of least political resistance.

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