Democrats will soon have a big, fat fight over fracking
Most Democratic politicians say nice things about renewable energy and less-nice things about coal and earnest things about the need for climate action. But when it comes to fracking for natural gas, Dems and enviros are increasingly at odds.
Exhibit A: President Obama. He’s provided unprecedented support for clean energy. He’s making moves to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants. He’s saying climate change is a top priority for his second term. But he’s just fine with fracking. His administration has yet to impose any regulations on the process; it’s only offered weak draft rules so far. It recently approved plans for a third project to export fracked natural gas. Obama thinks natural gas is part of the climate solution, a bridge fuel that will help us make the transition from coal and oil to renewables, as he made clear in his big climate speech in June:
We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions. …
The bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs. It’s lowering many families’ heat and power bills. And it’s the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the technology required for the even cleaner energy economy of the future.
Even California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), a long-time booster of clean energy and climate action, is open to fracking.
But as anti-fracking activism heats up around the country, pro-fracking Dems might find themselves increasingly at odds with their base. As we near 2016, any Democrat who wants to replace Obama might have to start singing a different tune.
National Journal reports on the fracking fight shaping up within the Democratic Party:
Led by President Obama, most Democrats have tried to occupy a careful middle ground on the natural-gas industry that’s transforming the U.S. energy economy. But that balance might not last much longer, as environmentally conscious “fracktivists” look for ways to press their case that the potential for pollution outweighs the jobs created by the mushrooming shale-gas drilling industry. …
Some environmental leaders and so-called fracktivists are hopeful the party will turn against the industry. And they have some reason for optimism. Already, Democratic governors and presidential prospects Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley have upheld moratoriums on the controversial process in New York and Maryland, suggesting the issue could emerge as a potent one in a presidential primary. And this summer, the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee passed a resolution calling for all drilling to temporarily halt in the Keystone State. The resolution was nonbinding, but it was nonetheless significant in a state seen as ground zero for the country’s natural-gas boom and where Democrats have been friendly to the industry.
However, any political shift within the Democratic Party won’t come easily. And many party insiders and operatives think it won’t come at all—because the booming industry offers too many economic benefits to too many groups, including members of the Democratic coalition. … Among them are unions that stand to benefit from building the pipelines. …
“For the first time in my memory, you have a real live issue where environmentalists are lined up on one side, and pretty much the entire rest of the Democratic coalition is lined up the other side,” said Matt McKenna, an energy lobbyist for MWR strategies.
As National Journal suggests, watch Cuomo and O’Malley for signs of which way the wind is blowing.
And, of course, watch Hillary Clinton. In a speech on energy last year, she noted approvingly that “natural gas production is surging” in the U.S., but she hasn’t said much else lately that would give us any clues into her thinking. We’ll tell you when she does.