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Mary Mazzoni headshot

3p Weekend: Why The Republican Platform Should Concern Environmentalists

By Mary Mazzoni

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

The GOP officially released its 2016 platform at the Republican National Convention on Monday (PDF). A broad array of stakeholder groups, ranging from immigration-reform advocates to LGBTQ people and their allies, were predictably concerned by its contents.

Some are paying the platform less mind, saying Republican nominee Donald Trump is unlikely to follow it anyway. “No reasonable Republican thinks the platform has any real heft, and hardly expects that it'll be something that Trump will care enough about to abide," a GOP strategist, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly, told Politico last month.

Trump's VP pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, strikes us as a bit more of a stickler. And even if the platform is forgotten after Election Day (as many are), the fact remains that it was devised by party higher-ups as a wish list for America. So, we wouldn't be so quick to count out the 66-page document.

Social progressives have plenty of qualms with the text and its purported plans to "defend traditional marriage," replace sex-ed in public schools with abstinence-only lessons, and seek "special scrutiny" for Muslim immigrants. But for the purposes of this story (and your finite coffee break), we'll focus solely on the environment this afternoon.

And believe us, there's plenty of material.

See ya, EPA!

Under the ironic heading "environmental progress," the platform's authors proudly proclaim, "Conservation is inherent in conservatism" (page 20, for those following along*). They then go on to advocate for the end of the Environmental Protection Agency as we know it.

"Our modern approach to environmentalism ... starts with dramatic change in official Washington," the platform reads (page 21). Namely this involves turning the EPA into "an independent bipartisan commission." This would effectively remove the federal government’s ability to study the effects of pollution and establish safe standards.

The platform also calls to "forbid the EPA" from regulating carbon dioxide, "something never envisioned when Congress passed the Clean Air Act." Because apparently the gains in climate science over the past 46 years should be tossed aside in favor of this initial "vision."

Ben Adler, who covers environmental policy and politics for Grist, summed up the plan nicely: "In a particularly Orwellian touch, the Republicans promise that a kneecapped EPA would adhere to 'structural safeguards against politicized science.' That actually means safeguards against scientific findings they don’t like. In other words, they would politicize the science."

Keep it in the ground? Pfft... forget that

Environmental advocates insist the majority of fossil fuel resources must remain untapped if we are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Republican Party acknowledged this mission in its platform, although not in a way these advocates would like.

"The Democratic Party’s energy policy can be summed up in a slogan currently popular among its activists: 'keep it in the ground.' Keeping energy in the earth will keep jobs out of reach of those who need them most," reads the 2016 GOP platform (page 19).

And the party doubled down on the good ol' sustainability-as-a-job-killer narrative. They called for opening public lands and the outer continental shelf to oil, gas and coal exploration, "even if those resources will not be immediately developed." They then pledged to "do away with [the Clean Power Plan] altogether."

Keystone XL? Bring it on!

As part of its purported "all-of-the-above" energy strategy, the Republican Party vows to move forward with the Keystone XL pipeline. They called the rejection of the pipeline "a symbol of everything wrong with the current administration’s ideological approach" (page 20).

"After years of delay, the president killed it to satisfy environmental extremists. We intend to finish that pipeline and others as part of our commitment to North American energy security." (Yes, "environmental extremists." We are 100 percent serious. Page 20. Look it up.)

Carbon tax? Hell no!

The majority of the sustainability community insists a shift to renewables won't happen without a tax on carbon. More than half (51 percent) of self-proclaimed Trump voters support a carbon tax on businesses. And as of last year, more than 1,000 companies worldwide — including 18 energy firms — had already set an internal price on carbon.

But never mind them, say the authors of the 2016 GOP platform. "We oppose any carbon tax," they wrote succinctly (page 20). "It would increase energy prices across the board, hitting hardest at the families who are already struggling to pay their bills in the Democrats’ no-growth economy."

Instead, the GOP suggests we turn to carbon capture and storage (CCS, sometimes called carbon sequestration) to limit emissions. Proponents claim the technology can capture up to 90 percent of the CO2 emissions generated by fossil fuel power plants. But environmental advocates often call it a crutch aimed to keep these plants open, even as cleaner energy sources become more readily available.

Not enough buyers for all that natural gas? We'll fix that

With continued natural gas drilling and exploration, brought on by the increased use of less proven extraction methods such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), U.S. companies now have a natural gas surplus.

Does this mean we should slow drilling and heed the calls of communities who don't want fracking in their backyards? Nah. Let's just export that gas to help neighboring countries increase their own CO2 footprints.

"We must expedite the energy export terminals currently blocked by the administration," the platform's authors wrote (page 20). They also oppose the Bureau of Land Management's rule that seeks to limit fracking, saying "we respect the states’ proven ability to regulate the use of hydraulic fracturing, methane emissions and horizontal drilling."

How about some agricultural runoff with that tap water?

"Like the rest of the economy, agriculture has suffered through eight years of the Democrats’ regulatory juggernaut, particularly from the Environmental Protection Agency," reads the platform (page 17). It goes on to call the EPA’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, issued jointly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, "a travesty."

But invalidating WOTUS "will not be sufficient," the authors went on. They call for taking all agricultural regulation out of the hands of the EPA and the federal government, and turning it over to the states. It also seeks to privatize 200 million acres of forest land now under the control of the U.S. Forest Service.

You can't sit with us, UNFCCC!

The Obama administration requested $13 million in funding for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in fiscal year 2017. A group of Republicans took aim at the administration's plans in April. And the GOP continued with this trend in its 2016 platform.

"We demand an immediate halt to U.S. funding for the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)," the platform reads (page 22). The authors say the UNFCC is "a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution" -- adding that its "unreliability is reflected in its intolerance toward scientists and others who dissent from its orthodoxy" (aka climate deniers).

In further attempt to get all of this politics out of the climate change conversation, the platform's authors "reject the agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement."

The icing on the cake

Really, the entire "environmental progress" section should be read in full. (Here's that PDF again: pages 20-22) But these gems further illustrate how the GOP at-large seems to view the environmental movement:

  • "The environment is too important to be left to radical environmentalists. They are using yesterday’s tools to control a future they do not comprehend."

  • "We assert that private ownership has been the best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while some of the worst instances of degradation have occurred under government control."

  • "The environmental establishment has become a self-serving elite, stuck in the mindset of the 1970s, subordinating the public’s consensus to the goals of the Democratic Party. Their approach is based on shoddy science, scare tactics, and centralized command-and-control regulation."

Jeez, guys. Tell us how you really feel.

The bottom line

This is not to say that all Republicans refute the existence of climate change or put profit above environmental conservation. In fact, 62 percent of self-proclaimed Trump voters support the regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, according a survey conducted in May by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Even a mayor from Mike Pence's home state represented a small but present voice for climate action at the RNC.

Indeed we should lift up these stories and share them loudly. Climate action and environmental conservation should not be partisan issues.

But the language of the platform is unsettling to say the least. And if nothing else, it should inspire voters to look beyond Trump. A total of 469 seats in the U.S. Congress are up for election this year. It is equally important to look into the policies of your Congressional representatives. If they side with this environmentally destructive platform, it may be time to look elsewhere.

*Please note that all page numbers refer to pagination directly within the platform text (which excludes introductory pages). Pagination on your PDF viewer may be different. 

Image credits: 1) Flickr/Wladimir Labeikovsky; 2) Flickr/Thomas

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni