On Environment and Energy, Party Platforms Stand in Sharp Constrast
The Democrats see government as the main actor in shaping American life. Republicans leave that to citizens.
At the Second All-Russian Congress of Political Education Departments in 1921, Vladimir Lenin said, “The whole question is, who will overtake whom?”
Over the next decade various Communist factions shortened that to “Who, whom?” and used it of class struggle. Non-Communists have used it to ask, “Who rules whom — the government the people, or the people the government?”
With that in mind, consider which of these statements better expresses your basic political vision:
- Aside from national defense, law enforcement, and public goods like roads, government should interfere little with people’s lives. Government should be small.
- In addition to national defense, law enforcement, and public goods like roads, government should determine the vision of the good society and work to ensure that everyone helps achieve it. Government should be large.
The Democratic and Republican Party platforms’ statements on environmental policy, especially energy and climate, divide along precisely those lines. A subtle textual fact reveals this.
The Republican platform’s section on energy, climate, and environment in general runs 2,591 words. In it, the words “we will” occur 12 times, once forecasting what people in general will experience in the future, and 11 times — once for every 236 words — saying what Republicans, if elected, will (try to) do to restrain government.
The Democratic platform’s section runs 1,785 words. In it, “we will” occurs 15 times — once for every 119 words, almost exactly twice as often. More significantly, 12 times (once for every 148 words) they say what Democrats, if elected, will (try to) do to restrain citizens, 3 times (once for every 595 words) what they’ll (try to) do to restrain government.
That by itself reveals a fundamental difference in vision of the public good. By this measure, the Democratic Party is four times more intent on restraining citizens than on restraining government and twice as intent on restraining citizens as the Republican Party is on restraining government. In contrast, the Republican Party is two-and-a-half times more intent on restraining government than the Democratic Party and expresses — by the words “we will,” anyway — no intent to restrain citizens.
That’s the big picture. The Democrats’ vision exalts government over citizens; the Republicans’ vision exalts citizens over government. Re-read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights to see which picture is more American.
Going beyond that fundamental difference in philosophy, the two platforms differ starkly over environmental policy in general and energy and climate in particular. For full details, read the two documents here and here. What follow are particularly important points, though many others could be mentioned.
Is the State Our Steward?
Both platforms say obligatory things about wanting a clean, healthful, beautiful environment. Both rightly reject what the Democrats call the choice “between protecting our planet and creating good-paying jobs.” Indeed, both count job creation as a benefit of this or that policy.
The Republican platform rightly says, “Conservation is inherent in conservatism.” It affirms “the moral obligation to be good stewards of the God-given natural beauty and resources of our country,” calls people “the most valuable resources … and human health and safety … the proper measurements of a policy’s success.” The GOP says “Poverty, not wealth, is the gravest threat to the environment,” and celebrates private ownership as “the best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while some of the worst instances of degradation have occurred under government control.” Nothing parallels any of that in the Democratic platform, which effectively sees public ownership as better stewardship than private.
The Republican platform proposes “to shift responsibility for environmental regulation from the federal bureaucracy to the states” and “transform the EPA into an independent bipartisan commission” (I’d prefer to replace it with a committee of the whole of the state EPAs.) while the Democratic platform supports federal dominance in environmental regulation.
The Democratic platform puts heavy emphasis on “environmental justice,” decrying in particular the tendency for pollution to concentrate in poor and consequently often minority neighborhoods, which it calls “environmental racism.” The Republican platform unwisely ignores the issue rather than confronting the myths surrounding it.
Climate Change: Crisis or Crackdown?
The Democratic platform calls climate change “an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time,” (wrongly) blaming it for rising seas, record high temperatures, increasing wildfires, and more. It claims that
climate change is too important to wait for climate deniers and defeatists in Congress to start listening to science, and support using every tool available to reduce emissions now
So the Democratic document supports “a comprehensive approach that ensures all federal decisions … contribute to solving … climate change.” Among solutions it promotes are implementing the Paris climate agreement, imposing a tax on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (a “carbon tax”), reducing GHG emissions “more than 80% below 2005 levels by 2050” and making America run “entirely on clean [i.e., zero-carbon-dioxide-emissions] energy by mid-century,” and “enlist[ing] farmers in promoting conservation and stewardship.” It doesn’t mention that the CO2 emissions reductions would have little or no impact on global temperature but would cost trillions of dollars.
The Republican platform, in contrast, says, “Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue,” rebuts Democrats’ depicting Republicans as anti-science by insisting that climate-change projections be “based on dispassionate analysis of hard data,” opposes any “carbon tax,” intends to “forbid the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide,” rejects the Paris agreement, calls the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution,” whose “unreliability is reflected in its intolerance toward scientists and others who dissent,” and calls for halting funding of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (IPCC’s parent body) because it violates a law forbidding U.S. funding of any organization that grants Palestinians membership as a state.
Green Energy — at What Cost?
Both parties sensibly want to modernize the nation’s electric grid and secure it against enemy attack and natural disaster.
The Republican platform bases its energy policy on the principle that energy must be “clean, affordable, secure, and abundant.” The last three of those criteria implicitly favor fossil fuels and nuclear over wind, solar, and other renewables, and the Republican platform affirms that fossil fuels, including coal, can be used cleanly as well — as can nuclear. It favors expediting energy exports to create jobs, reduce the trade deficit, grow the economy, and boost allies’ energy security. It supports “the development of all forms of energy that are marketable in a free economy without subsidies” and insists that government “should not play favorites.” It calls for doing away with the Clean Power Plan, approving the Keystone XL pipeline extension, unshackling the Defense Department from costly “Green” energy requirements, expediting permits for nuclear power plants, and pursuing “long-term storage of nuclear waste” (i.e., Yucca Mountain).
The Democratic platform calls for getting 50 percent of electricity from “clean energy sources” (mainly wind and solar) within a decade, using tax and subsidy policy to punish fossil fuels and reward renewables; wants to enable the federal EPA to regulate fracking (now regulated by states); promises to defend the Clean Power Plan and prevent building Keystone; opposes “drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast”; and commits to “phase down extraction of fossil fuels from our public lands” and “expand the amount of renewable energy production on federal lands and waters, from wind in Wyoming to solar in Nevada.”
Blind to the irony compared with their stated concern for the poor affected by pollution, the Democrats are determined to reduce fossil fuel production, especially coal, though doing so has already impoverished thousands and will destroy the jobs of more. But they assure us that they’ll “make new investments in energy-producing communities to help create jobs and build a brighter and more resilient economic future” — though they don’t say how they’ll pay for that. The Republican platform calls for reinvigorating the coal industry.
A Free People, or Free Rein for Regulators?
In short, the Democratic platform on energy, climate, and the environment calls for more government control especially by the federal government, more expensive and less abundant energy from a sector in which tax and subsidy policies favor renewables and punish fossil fuels, and prioritizing fighting global warming. The Republican platform calls for less government control, transfer of regulation from Washington to the states, more abundant and affordable energy from a sector in which government plays no favorites, and prioritizing economic growth over fighting global warming. Take your pick.