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DNC under fire from environmental groups for reversing ban on fossil fuel donations

Satisfying concerns of organized labor cited as reason for the DNC's retreat on anti-fossil fuel resolution.

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ's resolution in favor of donations from fossil fuel interests was approved by Democrats on August 10, 2018. CREDIT: Kristoffer Tripplaar/For The Washington Post via Getty Images
DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ's resolution in favor of donations from fossil fuel interests was approved by Democrats on August 10, 2018. CREDIT: Kristoffer Tripplaar/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

On Friday, August 10, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) overwhelmingly passed a resolution, sponsored by DNC Chairman Tom Perez, that reverses its recently adopted ban on accepting donations from fossil fuel companies’ political organizations.

The original resolution was widely hailed by environmental and climate activists as a positive — albeit small — step for the Democratic Party in its political transition away from relying on funding from fossil fuel interests. But even this relatively modest resolution was viewed as going too far by many Democratic party leaders.

Perez’s resolution was approved by a 30-2 vote on Friday night only two months after the DNC adopted another resolution prohibiting donations from fossil fuel companies by a unanimous vote. The new resolution states that the DNC “will continue to welcome contributions of workers” in the fossil fuel industry who donate to Democrats, “either through their unions’ or their employers’ political action committees.”

Environmental groups questioned how a political party can to be in favor of taking strong measures to curb the effects of climate change while at the same time accepting political donations from corporate entities that play a major role in humans’ contribution to climate change.

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“I am furious that the DNC would effectively undo a resolution passed just two months ago just as the movement to ban fossil fuel corporate PAC money is growing,” RL Miller, president of Climate Hawks Vote, said in a statement.

Climate Hawks Vote is a grassroots-funded group that supports candidates and elected officials whom it identifies as making climate change a top priority.

Miller noted that there is no such thing as an employer political action committee. There are union PACs and corporate PACs, “so that if Exxon employs a Democrat anywhere in its corporate workforce, then the DNC will welcome contributions from Exxon,” Miller said Friday in a statement. “This effectively reverses the ban on fossil fuel PAC donations adopted by the DNC two scant months ago,” she added.

Bill McKibben, environmental author and co-founder of 350.org, said Friday that the new DNC resolution supports an “all of the above” energy policy that the Democratic Party’s platform in 2016 explicitly rejected. “This is a bad idea, on both scientific and political grounds,” McKibben said in a tweet.

Facing intense criticism for backtracking on the original resolution, Democratic Party leaders portrayed the new resolution as a commitment to organized labor instead of a retreat from its claims of taking climate change seriously.

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Perez said on a conference call on Friday that after the June resolution passed, members of the labor community voiced concerns about the ban, calling it “an attack on the working people in these industries.”

If concerns of fossil fuel workers were Democrats’ primary complaint about the resolution, the easiest fix would be to strike the words “or employers’ political action committees,” Miller said. Then the Democratic Party could follow up by having a conversation about how best to respond to the “climate emergency without abandoning the workers in the fossil fuel industry,” she said.

Christine Pelosi, a DNC member who co-authored the June resolution, offered an amendment to Perez’s measure that would strike the words “employers’ political action committees” to discourage donations from corporate PACs. But the motion to amend the language proposed by Pelosi failed, 4 to 28.

The June resolution only prohibited donations from corporate fossil fuel PACs, not individual donations from fossil fuel employees. Corporate PACs, which are generally funded by donations by the highest-paid employees of a company, are a huge source of donations for federal candidates.

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Republicans are by far the largest recipients of oil and gas political donations. But Democrats also take in significant funding from the industry.

Republicans received about $53.7 million from oil and gas companies during the 2016 election cycle, while Democrats received about $7.6 million. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received 7 percent of her Super PAC money from oil and gas interests, EcoWatch reported Monday.

U.S. oil and gas production went through a huge growth phase during President Barack Obama’s two terms in office. His administration generally supported the industry’s expansion, although efforts were made to curb methane emissions during his second term.

State Department officials under Obama worked closely with private sector oil and gas companies to promote U.S. fracking and drilling technologies. Efforts were made by the Obama administration to export U.S. technologies to other countries, particularly in Europe, where local governments had expressed opposition and in some cases even banned fracking, The Intercept reported.

Two of the nation’s largest natural gas producing states — Pennsylvania and Colorado — have Democratic governors who generally favor an expansion of fossil fuel production in their states and oppose certain efforts to strengthen regulations against oil and gas companies.

During his time office, Virginia’s former, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), was a vocal booster of two controversial natural gas pipelines that would traverse the western and southern portions of the state. His Democratic successor, Gov. Ralph Northam, has not taken efforts to stand in the way of the construction of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, two major infrastructure projects that many energy experts contend are not needed to meet natural gas demand.

Activists released a petition this weekend in response to the DNC vote, calling on the party and Democratic leaders across the country to once again say no to fossil fuel money.

“DNC executives are keeping quiet about the Friday night vote — they know taking Big Oil money isn’t a good look for the Party — but resistance from DNC membership is growing and the press is beginning to take notice,” the petition reads.