Cows Don't Fart-- They Belch... And Why Status Quo Joe Isn't a Credible Standard-Bearer For The Democratic Party

Bill McKibben, the country's foremost green energy expert and activist, wrote that Biden "is too stuck in the past to be a credible standard-bearer for the Democratic party." He doesn't understand anything about the climate crisis and thinks the solution is fracking. Like everyone concerned about climate policy, McKibben's internal alarm system went off Friday when Biden's brain trust said they're looking for a "middle ground" on climate. That's identical to what mainstream Republicans say-- and it doesn't exist. Biden likes fracking and nuclear energy and "a return to the all-of-the-above energy strategy that marked the Obama years, and a terrible idea." Biden is now trying to back-peddle and dishonestly blaming the story on a Reuters reporter.

As is now entirely clear, increasing fracking increases the flow of methane to the atmosphere, and since methane is a potent greenhouse gas it drives up the rate of global warming. In the early days of the Obama years, when we knew far less about the chemistry of methane, it was a perhaps-defensible plan; in 2019 it’s embarrassing, the equivalent of idling your muscle car outside the Earth Day picnic. There is no “middle ground” on climate change-- there’s only meeting the demands of physics and chemistry (and justice), or watching the temperature soar.

A few hours after the story, as environmental activists (and primary opponents) tweeted their dismay, the Biden team seemed to blush. Biden’s energy advisor Heather Zichal said that the Reuters reports were wrong, and that instead he planned to “enact a bold policy to tackle climate change in a meaningful and lasting way.” But the fact that it was Zichal making the statement essentially confirmed the accuracy of the original story: in the early Obama years, she’d headed up an interagency working group to promote the development of domestic natural gas.

The working group had been formed after pressure from the American Petroleum Institute, the chief fossil-fuel lobbying group, and Zichal, in a talk to an API gathering, said: “It’s hard to overstate how natural gas—and our ability to access more of it than ever—has become a game changer.” Zichal left her White House job in 2013; one year later, she took a gig on the board of Cheniere Energy, a leading exporter of fracked gas, which has earned her over a million dollars.

And Zichal said Biden was also turning for advice to former energy secretary Ernest Moniz, who oversaw the rise of the United States to its position as the biggest oil and gas producer on the planet and continues to recommend natural gas development, and Frank Verrastro, co-author of a report on fracking that found no “unmanageable risk that would require widespread reconsideration of current recommended practices.” In short, he’s relying on people deeply attached to the status quo. [Note: We don't call him Status Quo Joe for nothing.]

The timing of the gaffe couldn’t have been more stunning—it came just 72 hours after the UN released a report pointing out that climate change would help wipe out a million species in the decades ahead. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo later that day lauded the rapid melt of the Arctic, saying it would increase access to gold and diamonds, not to mention make it easier to ship junk from China. You couldn’t have asked for a much better opportunity to draw a contrast, not search for a “middle ground.”

As recently as 2016, climate was seen as a losing issue. It was a distant problem, with unclear consequences, that would require huge sacrifices to solve. But then California caught fire, Puerto Rico got ravaged by a hurricane, and people woke up to the fact that this was clear and present danger. The IPCC report hammered home the threat. And with ideas like the Green New Deal gaining prominence, people have understood that solving the problem won’t require sacrifice as much as it will create opportunity. Why would we stay in the “middle of the road” when the left lane promises solutions that will not only help the climate, but also our economy, public health, and national security?

But Biden’s team apparently is fixated on the relatively small number of workers in the building trades unions who want to keep on constructing natural gas pipelines (and perhaps, since he hasn’t signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, on big donors from the hydrocarbon sector). This is old-school thinking at its best: throw young voters, overwhelmingly fixated on climate change, under the dirty diesel bus in an effort to win a narrowing pool of union leaders, who gathered in the Oval Office with Trump to celebrate in the early days of his presidency.

Obviously Biden will be better than Trump on this (and every other) issue; obviously everyone who cares about the earth should support him if he’s the nominee. (That paramount need is why I’ve been running the #DemUnityTwitterProject these past weeks). And he’s got time to turn his policies around—I remember when he gave a wink and a nod support to those fighting the Keystone pipeline, well in advance of Obama’s eventual veto of the project. His credibility with union workers is understandably high, which is why he would be the perfect person to push for large-scale retraining programs for clean energy jobs.

But for now Biden has done precisely the thing you’d think he’d be trying his hardest to avoid: showing that he’s stuck in the dirty energy past. If he’s going to mount a serious challenge to Trump, he’s going to need the huge number of Americans for whom climate change has become the issue. On the biggest issue our civilization’s ever faced, we need him thinking like it’s 2030, not 2010.

Clearly, Biden is better than Trump on... everything, as is every other Democrat running for the nomination. That bar is way too low, way too low. Besides, almost any of them can beat Trump, according to just-released Emerson polling. A few days earlier, Intercept reporter David Dayen, noted that despite Biden's bullshit claim that he doesn't support the Green New Deal because he loves unions-- Joe Biden's Union Schtick Is All Performance. His Pollster Just Signed Up To Lobby Against Labor For Trump's NAFTA 2.0. That would be John Anzalone, the head of the Blue Dog polling firm, Anzalone Liszt. Anzalone, wrote Dayen, "is joining Trade Works for America, an organization co-founded by Marc Short, who is now Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff. Funding for the group, which expects to spend $15 million to $20 million, comes from 'the pharmaceutical industry, oil and gas, the automotive and agricultural sectors, and traditional GOP donors.'"

Trade Works has bipartisan co-chairs: former Republican Governors Association Executive Director Phil Cox, and former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat. Last year, when she was in office, Heitkamp declared NAFTA 2.0, which Trump has termed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, "disappointing"... Unions share Heitkamp’s prior assessment. The AFL-CIO formally announced opposition to USMCA in its current form in March. “The NAFTA renegotiation requires strong labor rights provisions and strong enforcement provisions that as of today are not yet in the agreement,” their statement read. The agreement also locks in protections for certain pharmaceuticals, which progressives have loudly opposed.

Biden has sought to position himself as a union stalwart, kicking off his campaign at a Teamsters local and winning the endorsement of the International Association of Fire Fighters. But he also had his first fundraiser hosted by a union-busting lawyer, and this week he held another fundraiser in Los Angeles at the home of a board member of Kaiser Permanente, the hospital chain currently mired in a labor dispute with the National Union of Healthcare Workers. Health care workers picketed the Biden fundraiser on Wednesday. Now, his pollster has joined an organization dedicated to passing a trade agreement labor unions are against.

Biden has also set himself up almost entirely in opposition to Trump, while his pollster pushes to get Trump a win on trade policy, a signature issue for the president.

Owen E. Herrnstadt of the International Association of Machinists has laid out labor’s opposition to USMCA: There is no funding for enforcement or monitoring in the agreement. The labor standards are framed as “principles” rather than actual rights, and fields not involving trade or investment don’t have to abide by them. Also, workers cannot get employers who violate the agreement sanctioned on their own. It’s not even clear whether the murder of a trade union activist would qualify as a USMCA violation, since violations must occur “periodically and repeatedly.”

Mexico did pass amendments to its labor law, which unions had said must be completed before any agreement. The amendments give Mexican workers access to secret-ballot union elections for bargaining and contracts, and ban “protection unions” set up before anyone is hired. However, unions still believe it falls short.

Trade Works for America has been talking up the agreement on Capitol Hill, claiming that it will support 14 million jobs. As economist Dean Baker has noted, an analysis by the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated that USMCA would add 0.02 percent of gross domestic product to the economy per year, “an increment that would be essentially invisible.” And those increases are only secured through “greater certainty” for business investment, which makes no sense since there is already a trade agreement in place with Canada and Mexico and has been for a quarter-century.

The group has already spent nearly $700,000 on digital advertising and television, mostly targeting Democratic House members in swing districts.

Other politicians turned lobbyists working to pass USMCA include former holder of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s seat Joe Crowley, former Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen, and former Obama administration Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

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