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Democrats have made a puzzling decision to drop their demand to end fossil fuel subsidies

Democrats say climate change is a priority. The DNC platform dropped its demand to end subsidies to dirty energy.

Democratic National Committee staff change the set as Milwaukee native and convention Secretary Jason Rae walks offstage at the 2020 Democratic National Convention at the Wisconsin Center on August 18, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Democrats have made climate change one of their priorities during their convention this week, but the party’s official platform removed a call to end fossil fuel subsidies.
Gabriela Bhaskar/Getty Images
Umair Irfan is a correspondent at Vox writing about climate change, Covid-19, and energy policy. Irfan is also a regular contributor to the radio program Science Friday. Prior to Vox, he was a reporter for ClimateWire at E&E News.

The Democratic National Committee has removed a provision in its party platform that called for an end to subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry.

First reported by HuffPost on Tuesday, the revelation comes amid the party’s convention this week, where fighting climate change has been a recurring theme and where there has been a particular emphasis on switching to cleaner alternatives and away from dirty energy sources like coal and oil that emit greenhouse gases.

It’s also an odd move during a campaign in which nearly every Democratic presidential candidate put out a robust plan to deal with climate change. While the plans differed on the specifics, almost all of them specifically called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. That includes the plans of Democratic nominee for president, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris.

The deleted provision read, “Democrats support eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels, and will fight to defend and extend tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy.”

It was added over the summer to the party platform that was later approved. But the final version of the platform released this week omitted the line. The DNC told HuffPost the language was “incorrectly included” and was removed “after the error was discovered.”

But environmental activists were outraged when they discovered the omission. “It’s ridiculous that a common-sense policy endorsed by party leadership was stricken from the platform at the eleventh hour,” Ryan Schleeter, a spokesperson for Greenpeace USA told Vox in an email.

Policies for combating climate change aren’t just necessary — they’re popular

Fighting climate change has broad support, not just among Democrats but across the US public. An April poll from the Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of Americans say climate change is a major threat to the well-being of the United States. A Gallup poll last year reported that 60 percent of Americans favor reducing fossil fuel use. A growing number of power customers are now demanding 100 percent renewable energy from their utilities.

At the same time, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute estimated that the US directly subsidizes the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $20 billion a year.

And that figure fails to encapsulate the full monetary value of current fossil fuel policies: By failing to bill fossil fuel producers for their greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting damage to the environment, the International Monetary Fund calculated that the US gives an effective subsidy of $649 billion to the industries that contribute most to climate change.

These subsidies began as a way to shore up domestic energy production in a world where global energy markets can be volatile. But they served to extend the United States’ dependence on fuels that harm the environment by keeping prices artificially low. They have also propped up faltering energy companies. The coal industry in particular is facing a precipitous long-term decline the subsidies can’t reverse.

Financially supporting a major cause of climate change while ostensibly trying to fight it is incongruous, so it makes sense that people concerned about rising average temperatures would want to end policies that make it cheaper to use coal, oil, and natural gas.

But it’s a problem Democrats have struggled to solve. Former President Barack Obama repeatedly tried to reduce fossil fuel subsidies while in office but was stalled by Congress. Ending fossil fuel subsidies was also in the 2016 Democratic platform.

This makes the recent removal of language around ending fossil fuel subsidies all the more bizarre, especially since shifting to cleaner energy is a key part of the party’s pitch to voters.

“Joe [Biden] will rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and fight the threat of climate change by transitioning us to 100% clean electricity over the next 15 years,” said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during a virtual address to the convention on Tuesday. “These initiatives will create millions of good paying jobs all across the country.”

For their part, Biden’s campaign says they are still on board with cutting funding for dirty energy. Stef Feldman, the policy director for the campaign said on Twitter on Wednesday that Biden “continues to be committed to ending U.S. fossil fuel subsidies.”

As the Democratic Party makes this platform change, the United States is facing record heat, massive wildfires, and rising seas — phenomena that will continue to be exacerbated by rising average temperatures spurred by human emissions of greenhouse gases. Climate change is already here and it’s only getting worse.

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