The Democratic Platform: Energy (and Climate)

This is part of a series of short posts in which RFF scholars will analyze the environmental plank of the Republican and Democratic Party platforms. This week we’re looking at the Democratic platform. Previous posts analyzed the Republican platform. As with all posts on Common Resources, this and other posts in this series are the opinions of the authors alone, not Resources for the Future.

Three quick points on energy policy in the Democratic platform:

Energy Independence. Dutifully, the Democratic platform, like the Republican one, asserts that “[we] can move towards a sustainable energy-independent future if we harness all of America’s natural resources.” Never mind that such a self-sufficiency goal has, for predictable reasons, eluded every administration since Richard Nixon’s in the 1970s. (In his 2008 presidential campaign, then-Sen. Obama pledged to pursue a course that “breaks the grip of foreign oil.”)

We have recently addressed this issue – and not for the first time – and see no need to belabor it once more here, except to remind readers of three fundamental flaws in the argument.

First, availability of some domestic resources – like the shale-gas bonanza of the last decade – may indeed raise the share of our energy requirements produced domestically, but pursuit of some domestic resources and technologies may involve costs that exceed the benefits of foregoing less expensive foreign purchases.

Second, and in the case of oil, the fact that turmoil on world markets inescapably translates into turmoil here at home underscores the benefits of reduced oil consumption (primarily through enhanced efficiency) rather than reduced oil imports.

Third, it is important to keep in mind that as long as America values its role in a worldwide free-trade network, there’s no way, except through protectionist policies that risk retaliation, to insulate our economy from conditions on world markets.

Environmental Safeguards. The platform puts noticeable weight on ensuring that “[b]uilding a clean energy future means that new exploration and production needs [sic] to be approached safely and responsibly.” Whether this requires – as the platform document seems to suggest – a total, rather than conditional, ban on such assets as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) may be debatable; it’s conceivable that new exploratory techniques might allow some relaxation of such constraints. But a commitment “to protecting our natural resources while creating jobs, preserving habitats, and ensuring that future generations can enjoy our nation’s heritage” is one that deserves to be taken seriously.

Climate Change. The platform makes a brave attempt to portray the Democratic party as sensitive to the prospective risk from global warming. But the current administration has – no doubt for what it sees as salient political reasons – consciously avoided addressing the issue with the seriousness it merits. The claim of party concern therefore demands more evidence.

About Joel Darmstadter

JOEL DARMSTADTER is an economist and senior fellow at Resources for the Future, which he joined in 1966, following an earlier stint in the corporate sector and several research organizations. Specializing in economic and policy aspects of energy and the environment, he has written, co-authored, and contributed chapters to, numerous books and journal articles. He has appeared as an expert witness before congressional committees, been a consultant to several government agencies, and served on a number of National Research Council panels. During 1983-93, he was a professorial lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He has degrees in economics from George Washington University (A.B., 1950) and the New School for Social Research (M.A., 1952).

Views expressed above are those of the author. Resources for the Future does not take institutional positions on legislative or policy questions. All information contained on Common Resources is intended for informational and educational purposes and may only be used for these purposes. Please see RFF's Terms of Use for further information.

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