Biden Campaign Reaffirms End To Fossil Fuels Subsidies

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Politics is like sausage, they say. You don’t want to see how either is made. Both are messy and not suitable for the squeamish. A perfect example is Joe Biden’s policy on subsidies for fossil fuels. He was against them a month ago, but suddenly the language in his platform opposing them disappeared. Now it’s back, after the Huffington Post noticed the change and environmental groups fought to get the language restored.

fossil fuel subsidies
Image credit: Oil Change International

How did it get deleted? We may never know, but the current administration, stocked top to bottom with apologists for the coal, gas, and oil industries, makes it plain the fossil fuel companies have their tentacles into every level of government and are determined to squeeze every penny out of their investments even if it means destroying the Earth. It’s specious to think those tentacles don’t extend into the Biden camp and the Democratic National Committee as well.

According to The Verge, on August 17 the DNC quietly removed language calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies from a draft policy statement. The Huffington Post picked up on the change, which alerted progressives and conservationists that the game was afoot. They responded with a full court press to get the language — which was never removed from the Democratic Party’s official web page — reinstated. (Update: the language has now been removed. That link gets a 404 —Ed.)

And so it appears now it has been put back in, after a storm of criticism from environmental groups. “Fires & extreme weather are killing people and devastating the economy and @DNC can’t even accept an end to public subsidies for making it worse?” Greenpeace executive director Annie Leonard tweeted last night. “This is immoral, criminal, inexcusable.”

Varshini Prakash, head of the Sunrise Movement, told Democracy Now this morning that she’s hopeful Biden won’t flip-flop on fossil fuel subsidies. Prakash has met repeatedly over the past few months to make sure the concerns of the Sunrise Movement are addressed by Biden. “The elimination of fossil fuel subsidies is heavily supported by Biden and Harris in their climate plans,” she says. “So I think as long as it continues to be a priority for [environmental] movements, it will be a priority for the Biden administration should they win in November.”

In an e-mail to its members on Wednesday, the Sunrise Movement exhorted them to keep the pressure on the Biden campaign to shun ties with the fossil fuel industry.

“Our movement has already pushed Biden and Harris to campaign on enacting the most ambitious climate action in US history, and pressured weak-on-climate advisers like Larry Summers out of positions in a Biden administration. But those words are just empty promises if we can’t be sure that Biden and Harris won’t be surrounded by people working on behalf of fossil fuel polluters.

“This election is a matter of life or death for our generation, and Biden and Harris can only win if young people show up to vote for them in historic numbers. Joe Biden, show young people you’ll fight for our generation with no corrupting influences. Ban all fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, consultants to and lawyers for fossil fuel firms and aligned organizations from a Biden-Harris transition team, cabinet, campaign or administration advisor roles, or any other position in a Biden-Harris administration.”

One concern is that attorney Ken Salazar, who served as Obama’s first Secretary of the Interior, is an advisor to the
Biden campaign. After leaving office, Salazar went to work for a law firm representing BP. He is on record as saying fracking is safe, when we all know it is anything but.

The influence of fossil fuel companies runs deep throughout American politics. It will take persistence and vigilance to see that it does not distort the next administration the way it has the present one. According to Oil Change International, the US government provides $20 billion a year in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. But other sources suggest it could be as much as $649 billion a year if things like the cost of the military to protect access to oil and gas around the world are figured in, as well as the damage done to the environment and people by burning fossil fuels.

According to OCI, “A fossil fuel subsidy is any government action that lowers the cost of fossil fuel energy production, raises the price received by energy producers, or lowers the price paid by energy consumers. Essentially, it’s anything that rigs the game in favor of fossil fuels compared to other energy sources. The most obvious subsidies are direct funding and tax giveaways, but there are many activities that count as subsidies — loans and guarantees at favorable rates, price controls, governments providing resources like land and water to fossil fuel companies at below-market rates, research and development funding, and more.”

It adds, “Fossil fuel subsidies essentially function as a negative carbon price, reducing the cost of developing fossil fuels — so not only are their true costs being shifted onto the poor via climate and health impacts, but the fossil fuel industry is actually being paid for this privilege. Fossil fuel subsidies also take public money away from other uses. Public money going to fossil fuels could instead go to social spending, health and development, clean energy, energy access for the poor, or other areas important to the public.”

As we have said repeatedly at CleanTechnica, Earth justice =  climate justice = racial justice. Funding fossil fuel activities with public money is a denial of all three. Joe Biden needs to adhere to his promise to stop coddling the fossil fuel industry if he wants to continue receiving support from environmental groups. Studies show that a dollar of public money invested in renewable energy creates 3 times as many jobs as a dollar invested in fossil fuels. As America fights back from the ravages of the coronavirus, it needs to get a maximum return on its investments in the economy. That means investing in renewables, not fossil fuels.

No doubt the fossil fuel industry sees the writing on the wall. Trumpism is dead. Biden is the future. And so the fossil fuel crowd is now desperate to suck up to Biden, which probably explains how that language got deleted. Now is the time for Biden to adopt the advice of Nancy Reagan — “Just say no.” Our future as a country in a habitable world depends on it.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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