Democratic Party platform touts natural gas, tones down climate change talk

In the party platform they unveiled Tuesday, Democrats draw a distinction between “Big Oil” and “cheap, abundant natural gas” they tout as “helping to bring jobs and industry back to the United States.”

At the same time, the Democratic platform tones down its assessment of the severity of global warming and what the United States should be doing to arrest it — a big turnaround from four years ago, when the party warned that “the epochal, man-made threat to the planet” of climate change had to be halted.

The changes reflect two economic realities:

The recent surge in domestic production of natural gas from dense rock formations across the country  is bringing jobs to Ohio, Pennsylvania and other battleground states.

At the same time, the ailing economy nationwide has made broad initiatives to combat global warming — including cap-and-trade programs that would put a price on carbon dioxide emissions–a tough sell in the nation’s capital.

Both Republicans and Democrats have linked economic gains to domestic gas production.

“Our dependence on foreign oil is now at a 16-year low, and a new era of cheap, abundant natural gas is helping to bring jobs and industry back to the United States,” the Democrats say in their platform. “We can move towards a sustainable energy-independent future if we harness all of America’s great natural resources.”

The Democratic Party says 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.” It also translates to boosting energy efficiency and supporting investments in infrastructure needed to speed the transition to natural gas-powered vehicles and other cleaner transportation fuels.

In their platform, Democrats adopt the same balancing act on domestic fossil fuel production that the Obama administration has, by insisting that “new exploration and production needs to be approached safely and responsibly,” and that development has to be paired with environmental protection.

Dave McCurdy, the head of the American Gas Association, called the Democratic  platform an important endorsement of the fossil fuel.

“Unlike past platforms, there is very specific mention of natural gas,” McCurdy noted. “It’s one of the fuels that are considered clean energy.”

While the Democrats don’t offer much love for oil in their platform, McCurdy noted that natural gas escapes some of that.

“Natural gas is separated and distinguished,” he said. “It’s embraced as clean energy, as affordable, and it’s a real game changer.”

Republicans, by contrast, focus heavily on the production side of the ledger; their party platform, released last week, emphasizes ways the United States can harness the nation’s “incredible bounty” of oil and natural gas. For instance, the GOP platform urges an expansion of oil and gas development offshore and on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But there is no mention of natural gas as a transportation fuel. That matches a wariness by some Republican lawmakers when it comes to federal investments to boost the development of filling stations and other infrastructure for vehicles powered by liquefied or compressed natural gas.

Although the two parties differ widelywhen it comes to climate change, both have toned down their approach from four years ago.

Democrats’ dire warnings have given way to a more pragmatic approach. Because “the national security threat from climate change is real, urgent and severe,” their platform says, Democrats back an international framework for tackling the issue, as well as “efforts to combat climate change at home.” The Democrats stop short of endorsing a specific domestic approach, such as a cap-and-trade plan or carbon tax.

Republicans’ only mention of climate change this year is to decry the Obama administration’s national security strategy for elevating it to a “severe threat equivalent to foreign aggression.”

Four years ago, it was a different story, when Republicans advocated “measured and reasonable steps” to pare humans’ impact on the environment and “address the risk of climate change based on sound science.” According to the GOP in 2008, that included “market-based solutions” to curb emissions.

2012 Democratic Platform

2012 Republican Platform