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Where Do the GOP and Dems Fall on Clean Energy and Climate Change?

J. Mijin Cha

Now that the Democratic Party has released their policy platform, we can compare what the two parties envision for the future.  One huge point of difference is that the Democratic platform acknowledges climate change and the scientific backing for this claim. In contrast, the GOP openly mocked the idea of climate change even though their convention was delayed by a hurricane.

The Democratic National Convention stage at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina Saturday September 1, 2012. (Photo by Jared Soares for PBS NewsHour)Both the GOP and Democrats aim for an, “All of the Above” energy policy. In the GOP platform, “All of the Above” seems to mean coal, oil and gas, and nuclear. The section on renewable energy very clearly states that it should be developed by the private market only (read: no subsidies) and blasts the President for blocking Keystone XL and accuses him of doing, “nothing to disavow the scare campaign against hydraulic fracturing,” even though the commitment to fracking was pretty apparent in the last State of the Union address. The GOP also wants to drill anywhere and everywhere, including the Artic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf.

The Democratic “All of the Above” is focused more on clean energy investments, but still has traditional fossil fuels and nuclear energy as part of the energy mix. Tellingly, the Democrat's energy policy is under the section called “An Economy Built to Last.” This seems to indicate that the policies that will develop clean energy are also seen as an economic tool. The platform specifically states that “[I]t’s not enough to invent clean energy technologies here; we want to make them here and sell them around the world.” While there is a stronger commitment to renewable energies than the GOP, both parties tout the abundance of cheap natural gas as a significant component of the energy portfolio despite the many environmental and health dangers of fracking and its limited job creation potential.

Perhaps the starkest contrast between the two parties is their attitudes toward environmental protection and climate change. The GOP platform never mentions climate change and advocates for gutting the EPA. The GOP also claims that the worst instances of environmental degradation have occurred under government control and that private ownership is the best way to ensure environmental stewardship. The GOP platform admits that our air and water are cleaner, which only happened through strong environmental regulation and oversight by an agency dedicated to environmental protection. Or rather, government control actually prevented the worse instance of environmental degradation.

The Democratic platform reaffirms a commitment to clean air and water, environmental conservation and combatting climate change. The platform states that both regulation and market solutions will be used to reduce emissions. I don’t have much faith in market solutions, skepticism that was made stronger by the HFC-23 debacle. But, the CAFE standards showed how smart, targeted regulations can reduce emissions while spurring economic growth.

It wasn’t that long ago that support for renewable energy development was roughly equal between the two parties. Looking at the current GOP party platform, you would never think that just a few years ago, Republicans not only supported renewable energy development, 68 percent supported federal backing for it.