Mary Sullivan is one of 22 Vermont delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and one of nine state delegates originally pledged to former Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean. She was a 10-year member of the Vermont House of Representatives and chair of its natural resources committee. In the 1980s, she wrote for The Washington Post. Currently, she is communications coordinator at the Burlington Electric Department, part of the Alliance for Climate Action.

Sunday, 25 Jul 2004

BOSTON, Mass.

Rolling through the New England countryside on our almost five-hour bus ride from Burlington, Vt., to Boston, Don Hooper and I had plenty to talk about. As Vermont’s member of the Democratic Party’s Platform Convention a few weeks ago in Miami, Hooper was heavily involved in drafting the environmental portion of the party platform. Traveling through the green landscape, we compared earlier drafts with the final result, and found reason to be pleased.

Platform writing for major parties tends to avoid specifics. Instead, final wording choices rely on language that appeals to the broadest common denominator. In many respects, the environmental portion of the platform that will be adopted at the convention on Tuesday evening follows those general rules. But the changes that were made from earlier drafts to the final one are cause for hope and celebration.

Hooper, a former legislator who now works at the National Wildlife Federation, told me that when he introduced 18 amendments at the Miami meeting to improve and strengthen the platform language, he received respect and response from the John Kerry campaign. Hooper also checked in with the Dennis Kucinich contingent to see if their suggestions were seriously considered, and learned that they felt the same way Hooper did: People were being heard.

One strongly worded section of the final version of the platform called “Achieving Energy Independence” severely criticizes the Bush administration for letting “oil industry lobbyists and executives write our nation’s energy policy in secret.” It also attacks the “president’s approach to energy policy [which] leaves America shackled to foreign oil, dependent, vulnerable, and exposed.”

On the positive side, the energy portion of the platform asserts the imperative to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. It states: “Our plan begins with commonsense investments to harness the natural world around us — the sun, wind, water, geothermal, and biomass sources, and a rich array of crops — to create a new generation of affordable energy for the 21st century.”

Considering the meager tax credits for renewables made available during the Bush years, it was also heartening to find a statement in the final Democratic draft that strongly supports tax credits for private-sector investment in clean, renewable energy sources.

Under the section “Protecting Our Environment,” the platform condemns the current president for his policy on clean air: “Even though 133 million Americans already live with unhealthy air, the Bush administration bowed to energy-industry lobbying and rewrote rules to allow 20,000 facilities to spew more smog, soot, and mercury into the air.”

The finalized platform also censures President Bush for his global warming policies: “Even though overwhelming scientific evidence shows that global climate change is a scientific fact, this administration has rewritten government reports to hide that fact.” In contrast, the Democrats recognize that “[c]limate change is a major international challenge that requires global leadership from the United States, not abdication.” Likewise, the platform proposes that America take a leadership role in the international arena on such issues as hazardous waste emissions and depleted fisheries.

Ultimately, the delegates to the convention will adopt a platform that greens may wish were a bit stronger. But the final document is a platform that lots of people can stand behind.

Hooper told me that he felt especially encouraged by the platform-drafting process and the changes that were made during it. “This is [an environmental platform] that will help elect Kerry,” Hooper said. Considering that Kerry has an exemplary environmental voting record, according to the League of Conservation Voters, and that he has taken a leadership role on many environmental issues, it is this delegate’s view that Kerry — for the sake of our planet — needs to be elected.

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This piece reflects the opinion of its author and should not be taken to constitute an official endorsement by Grist Magazine, its staff, its board members, their massage therapists, or their personal trainers.