Aug 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Feud over fossil fuel subsidies spotlights Democrats' climate fissures

This illustration shows a donkey, symbolizing the Democratic party, split in half and shown in different colors.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Joe Biden's campaign is emphasizing that he really, really doesn't like subsidies for fossil fuels at a time when climate activists are blasting the removal of anti-subsidy language from the Democratic National Committee platform.

What they're saying: "[Joe Biden] continues to be committed to ending U.S. fossil fuel subsidies [and] then rallying the rest of the world to do the same — as was outlined in his climate plan last year," Biden policy director Stef Feldman tweeted Wednesday.

  • "Here at home, he'll use those dollars to instead invest in a clean energy future and create union jobs," she added.

The big picture: It's not clear why the language got dropped, but it's not really consequential in terms of future policy. Nonbinding party platforms aren't especially influential.

Why it matters: The kerfuffle is nonetheless important because it represents deeper tensions on the left that will play out if Democrats win the White House (and Senate) and have a chance to implement their wider climate agenda.

Politico's Zack Colman nicely explains why it touched a nerve, writing:

"The sparring over the fossil fuel language reflects a deeper mistrust between the DNC and progressive climate activists who contend the Democratic Party has failed to take aggressive positions against oil, gas and coal companies who have lobbied against policies to swiftly reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

The intrigue: The DNC told HuffPost, which broke the story, and other outlets that the anti-subsidy language was "incorrectly included" in a late July draft.

  • But in contrast, veteran Democratic insider John Podesta told my colleague Amy Harder that removal of the language was a procedural goof.
  • “Sometimes when you’re on Zoom and all that stuff, you just screw something up,” Podesta said. “It was really just a procedural screw-up, and they’ve ended up with egg on their face.”
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