WASHINGTON - Hillary Clinton supporters may have given a nod to rival Sen. Bernie Sanders by calling for tougher banking laws and highlighting other positions he’s championed in drafting the Democratic Party’s platform.
But their rejection of a carbon tax and a fracking ban has enraged some environmentalists and validated the concerns of some in the Sanders camp that Clinton is too tied to corporate interests to press as hard as they’d like on issues such as climate change.
“Quite frankly, we were angry,” said Ben Schreiber, climate and energy director for the pro-Sanders Friends of the Earth, after a party committee excluded the proposals from an early version of its platform.
Sanders said in a statement last week that his campaign will “do everything we can to rally support for our amendments” when a committee considers the platform in Orlando this week. Failing that, he vowed to “take the fight to the floor of the convention in Philadelphia,” where the platform will ultimately be presented to delegates for a vote.
The rhetoric illustrates a lingering divide between Sanders and Clinton, the party’s apparent presidential nominee, and suggests that Republicans won’t be the only ones facing a contentious national convention later this month.
Anti-fracking groups, including Schreiber’s, plan a march in Philadelphia the day before the Democratic convention opens, July 25.
The party platform is not binding and would not not compel Clinton to support a position. But it is considered significant in encouraging Sanders’ progressive supporters to rally behind her.
“This is the first time there’s been a real ideological battle in the Democratic Party in decades, and so the platform is a way to bind wounds,” said Bill McKibben, noted environmental author and Sanders delegate from California, who led the push to include a carbon tax and fracking ban.
The proposed draft has divided environmental groups.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune noted in a statement that the document goes further on environmental issues than the party’s previous platform, which took an “all of the above” position on energy sources.
This draft says half the country’s energy should be drawn from clean-energy sources within the next decade, and greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by more than 80 percent by 2050.
Brune, whose group has endorsed Clinton, called the platform “the strongest we’ve seen on energy and the environment in history.”
But Schreiber said the document shows a contrast between Clinton and Sanders, especially on issues deemed important by environmental advocates.
“It definitely doesn’t reconcile the party. ...,” he said. “It underscores how Clinton continues to be a very corporate candidate.”
Greenpeace reported in April that Clinton has taken $2.6 million from fossil fuel industry lobbyists, and groups supporting her candidacy have accepted another $4 million from the industry.
Clinton’s campaign has said U.S. natural gas production helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving energy use away from coal. She has instead focused on preventing damage attributed to hydraulic fracturing - the controversial process used by natural gas and oil drillers.
As for a carbon tax, she said it’s unlikely to pass the Republican Congress.
McKibben, in an email, said the coming election appeared to be a factor for platform writers. Clinton’s supporters in the group were concerned that environmental protections could hurt her in November in battleground states such as Pennsylvania.
But some were outraged that the draft platform isn’t more aggressive.
“I don’t know if they’re living on the same planet we’re living on,” said Karen Feridun, co-founder of Pennsylvanians Against Fracking.
Despite Clinton’s positions, Schreiber acknowledged that many Sanders supporters will likely back her as a better alternative than the Republicans’ apparent nominee, Donald Trump.
Robert Lempert, senior scientist at RAND Corp., said both Democrats have similar long-term goals.
But while one advocates an “aggressive approach,” he said, the other backs “generating momentum through a series of credible, doable actions.”
“There’s a plausible claim for either side,” he said.
The dispute also reflects a changing debate among environmentalists over reducing carbon-based fuels, said Debra Knopman, a principal researcher at RAND Corp.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, she said, all but one major environmental group opposed market-based strategies such as taxing the carbon content of fuels.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement that Democrats’ decision not to include a carbon tax or fracking ban in their platform “shows just how radical and unrealistic these ideas are.”
In a statement last week, Sanders applauded the platform writers for including strategies like greater regulation of bank investments and the abolition of the death penalty.
But, he added, they “voted down some very important provisions,” such as opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a carbon tax and a ban on fracking.
Clinton supporter Carol Browner, in an op-ed in Politico on Wednesday, hailed the platform as one that “will make history.” Browner is former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change under President Barack Obama, and was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in President Bill Clinton’s administration.
She called it “the boldest climate vision ever to appear in our party’s platform.”
Kery Murakami is the Washington, D.C. reporter for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com