• Op-Ed: Democrats Used to Like Natural-Gas Energy. Not Anymore

July 27, 2016

This op-ed originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal

Clinton helped rewrite the Democratic platform on energy in ways that make Obama look moderate.

By: Karen Alderman Harbert



The 2016 presidential campaign has been nothing if not dramatic, and so it comes as no surprise that the mundane task of developing official party platforms has garnered extensive attention and controversy, particularly on the Democratic side.

Energy policy took center stage as supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton argued for weeks over the extent—but not the direction—of new regulatory restrictions to limit U.S. energy production.

These divisions trace to early spring, when Sen. Sanders worked to distinguish himself as the candidate most committed to stringent climate regulations and new federal rules to halt fracking. The tactic rallied environmental activists, and Mrs. Clinton responded with a leftward drift that inched ever-so-close to the Sanders position.

“I’m going to pledge to stop fossil fuels,” Mrs. Clinton promised a voter in New Hampshire before the February primary. A month later she boasted at a debate that, after imposing new regulations, “I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”

The one-upmanship then moved to platform-drafting as the camps continued to squabble until reaching a conclusion in Orlando, Fla., on July 9. Supported by both campaigns and enthusiastically cheered by environmentalists, the final language stops short of calling for a nationwide fracking ban but incorporates a raft of anti-energy provisions, such as promising new Environmental Protection Agency rules on fracking, instituting a Keystone XL-like “climate test” for future federal permitting, and generally discouraging the use of natural gas.

While reports suggested the compromise resulted in a middle-ground position, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The real story of the 2016 platform language is not the squabbling between the Clinton and Sanders camps, but rather that both sides joined to reject the previous positions adopted by candidate Barack Obama and his supporters.

Consider this 2012 platform language from a section titled “All-of-the-Above Energy Policy”:

• “We can move towards a sustainable, energy-independent future if we harness all of America’s great natural resources. That means an all-of-the-above approach to developing America’s many energy resources, including wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, oil, clean coal, and natural gas.”

  • “[A] new era of cheap, abundant natural gas is helping to bring jobs and industry back to the United States.”
  • “We will continue to advocate for use of this clean fossil fuel [natural gas].”
  • “And we are expediting the approval process to build out critical oil and gas lines essential to transporting our energy for consumers.”

Each of these positions is reasonable and consistent with pro-growth policies. I would be the first to say that the Obama administration did not live up to those words, and in practice hasn’t executed the policies of that reasonable platform.

Yet it is notable that this year each plank was exiled from the platform with nary a word of discussion. Blanket praise for the importance of natural gas as a job creator was replaced by blanket promises to restrict its production and use. This is a dramatic and troubling about-face. The shale revolution has lowered energy prices and fueled a renaissance in American manufacturing while improving our security by lowering dependence on foreign oil.

Party platforms are symbolic documents typically forgotten before their ink dries. And we certainly hope that any future Democratic administration wouldn’t pursue an end to fracking and capitulate to the “keep it in the ground” campaign’s unrealistic worldview.

But Mrs. Clinton owes the public an explanation for the party’s rejection of these beneficial changes. Does she oppose energy independence or disagree with the need for energy infrastructure? Does she disagree that natural gas is bringing jobs and industry back to the U.S.? Or was this simply a case of “Bernie made me do it?” Either way, turning back the clock on the energy revolution is bad policy that would kneecap the tepid American economy.

The positions in the platform were officially adopted in Philadelphia this week. The scene is rich with irony as the party formally agrees to shun the very fuels and technologies that are driving economic growth in Philadelphia and the entire state of Pennsylvania.

It’s time to hold politicians and their interest-group allies accountable for irresponsible rhetoric and policies, especially the anti-energy sentiment that has consumed much of the 2016 Democratic campaign.



Ms. Harbert is the president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.