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Michael Bloomberg. Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Plenty of Democrats have supported natural gas as a way to kick coal out of the U.S. energy mix over the past several years, but that’s rapidly changing.

Why it matters: Natural gas, while far cleaner than coal and oil, is still a fossil fuel that emits heat-trapping emissions that cause global warming. It’s become plentiful in America over the past decade and is poised to become one of the world’s dominant energy sources. To what degree politicians embrace it or not is critical.

The big picture: As I’ve written in two recent Harder Line columns, Democrats, including those running for president, are increasingly embracing more aggressive and progressive policies on climate change while rejecting natural gas, along with oil and coal. But this hasn’t always been the case.

Flashback: Positions by two prominent Democrats — former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) — illustrate the overall party’s shift away from natural gas. Let’s break them down.

Bloomberg

Speaking at a Columbia University event in 2013, then-Mayor Bloomberg (who at the time was an independent) praised natural gas, listing it at the top of his list of energy policy actions:

“The first is encouraging environmentally responsible use of America’s newly accessible and abundant supplies of natural gas. The advances in fracking and horizontal drilling technology that have produced this natural gas bonanza have lowered wholesale power prices and have also helped cut America’s carbon emissions to levels not seen in more than 20 years."

The following year, he also criticized New York’s ban on fracking, a controversial extraction technique that has helped unlock shale natural gas and made the U.S. the world’s biggest producer of both oil and gas.

Where it stands: Earlier this month Bloomberg launched a $500 million campaign to halt construction of new natural gas plants alongside shutting down coal plants, which had previously been a years-long effort for him.

  • In a statement to Axios about his earlier positions, Bloomberg said the plummeting price of renewable energy indicates natural gas is no longer needed as a temporary power source. "At the same time, the threat of climate change has only increased," Bloomberg said. "We cannot afford to replace one fossil fuel with another when we have the clean energy alternatives to move Beyond Carbon."
Whitehouse

While at The Wall Street Journal, I wrote a story in August 2014 about how Democrats were increasingly backing oil and gas as America was suddenly awash in both fuels, which helped create jobs as the country dug out from the 2008 recession.

  • "I'm willing to defer cracking down on natural gas, because the economic benefits to the nation have been so great," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), said in an interview with me then.

Where it stands: When presented with his 2014 comments, Whitehouse said in a statement: "Since joining the Senate in 2007, I’ve worked relentlessly to move the United States away from all fossil fuels, in particular by putting a fair price on carbon pollution. The urgency around that effort has only grown as global temperatures continue to rise faster than was predicted even a decade ago, and as the Trump administration has focused on propping up polluters at the long-term expense of our economy."

What’s changed:

  • The science of climate change has grown more urgent in the face of continued inaction in America and around the world.
  • Emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s also the primary component of natural gas, are rising. Scientific research suggests that one cause may be growing oil and gas production.
  • The economy has improved, allowing political space for increased focus on the environment. Kevin Book, managing partner of research firm ClearView Energy Partners, shared these stats: In August 2014, national unemployment was 6.3%. Now it’s 3.6%.
  • Renewable energy costs have dropped more than predicted then (as Bloomberg said).

Go deeper: Natural gas is helping combat climate change — but not enough

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

HRW: Over 100 former Afghan security members dead or missing under Taliban rule

Members of the Taliban movement patrol Kabul's airport in September. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

The Taliban have "killed or forcibly disappeared" over 100 former members of Afghanistan's security forces since the group took power in August, a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday found.

Why it matters: It means former military members and officials from the ousted government, activists and other Taliban critics are facing peril amid executions driven by revenge — despite Taliban promises of an "amnesty" with no retributions, notes the New York Times, which first reported the news.

3 hours ago - World

Barbados becomes a republic, replacing U.K. queen with president

Combination images of Dame Sandra Mason, president of Barbados, and Britain's Prince Charles at her swearing-in ceremony in Bridgetown, Barbados, late Monday.

Barbados officially became a republic at midnight local time after Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as the Caribbean nation's first president in a ceremony attended by the United Kingdom's Prince Charles.

Why it matters: Mason replaced Britain's Queen Elizabeth as head of state Tuesday — removing the country's final remaining colonial tie to the U.K. almost 400 years after the first British ships arrived in Barbados.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.