The Democratic National Committee’s resolution committee on Thursday voted 17-8 against recommending a Democratic presidential debate focused exclusively on climate change. During the debate, Joe Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders said that holding a climate debate would be “dangerous territory in the middle of a Democratic primary process,” but a Sludge review of Federal Election Commission records suggest there could be another explanation for the vote.
Since January, the DNC has taken at least $60,750 from owners and executives of fossil fuel companies. The DNC’s fossil fuel industry donors include George Krumme, owner of Krumme Oil Company, who contributed $20,000, and Stephen Hightower, president and CEO of Hightower Petroleum Company, who contributed $35,500. Other donors include Duke Energy President CJ Triplette, Crystal Flash Energy executive Thomas Fehsenfeld, and Southern Petroleum Resources President David Simpkins.
Unlike the leading Democratic presidential candidates who have all signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, a promise to reject campaign contributions over $200 from fossil fuel PACs, lobbyists, and executives, the DNC is welcoming fossil fuel money. In August 2018 it approved a resolution from Chairman Tom Perez stating that it will accept donations from fossil fuel industry employees and their political action committees. The resolution, which also references “America’s all-of-above-energy economy”—meaning the burning of coal, oil, and gas alongside renewable energy sources—was criticized by environmental groups for gutting an earlier resolution that barred the DNC from accepting contributions from fossil fuel PACs.
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The DNC has former fossil fuel lobbyists among its leadership. Associate Chairman Jaime Harrison lobbied for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity from 2009 to 2012 while working for Podesta Group. The coalition represents major American coal companies like Murray Energy and Peabody Energy, and while Harrison was lobbying for the group it fought against President Obama’s Clean Power plan and other climate-related regulations.
A DNC-hosted climate debate, which is supported by environmental activists like those from the youth-led Sunrise Movement, would likely highlight the differences between the Democratic candidates’ views on climate change and their plans to address it. The proposals range from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ just-released Green New Deal plan that would declare climate change a national emergency and spend $16.3 trillion to achieve complete decarbonization to John Delaney’s plan that centers on a carbon tax similar to a proposal from the fossil fuel industry.
[Related from Sludge: Biden’s Climate Adviser Earned $1 Million From Natural Gas Company]
The DNC will hold its general session on Saturday in San Francisco, and it could still vote to hold a climate debate despite the resolution committee’s lack of an endorsement. Perez opposes holding a climate debate. In a June blog post, he wrote that the DNC has received many requests to hold single-issue debates, and holding one on climate change would amount to “putting our thumb on the scale.”
While the DNC voted against holding a climate debate, it also voted to reverse its ban on Democratic candidates participating alongside each other in climate debates that are not sanctioned by the DNC. The Sunrise Movement applauded that vote.
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“This partial victory shows the strength of the grassroots movement and the strength of young people,” Sunrise Movement spokesperson Sofie Karasek said. “In the coming days and months, we’ll keep fighting to make sure the DNC and Tom Perez treat the climate crisis like the emergency that it is, and give it the airtime and attention that it deserves.”
Here are the fossil fuel industry executives that have donated to the DNC in 2019:
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