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Fracking Foes Win Amendment in Democratic Party Platform

Progressives in the Democratic Party, many of them supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and his failed bid for the presidency, were reportedly unable to get a nationwide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), an idea championed by Sanders, added to their party's official platform.

But fracking opponents were able to get an amendment passed stipulating that the practice should not be performed "where states and local communities oppose it," according to the Sanders campaign. Environmentalists were also reportedly successful in getting support for the pricing of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and continued opposition to the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

"This is the most aggressive plan to combat climate change in the history of the Democratic Party," Warren Gunnels, policy director for the Sanders campaign, said Saturday after a two-day platform writers meeting concluded in Orlando, FL. "As a result of this plan natural gas is no longer regarded as a bridge to the future. The future of America's energy system now clearly belongs to sun and wind power.

"But we are not finished. We have got to follow through on the promise of this agreement, to put people before the profits of polluters and solve the global crisis of climate change before it's too late."

For several years, opponents of fracking have called for closing the "Halliburton loophole," a term coined during passage of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which was promoted by former Vice President and former Halliburton executive Dick Cheney (see Shale DailyMarch 17, 2011). Fracking foes insist the loophole exempts the practice from the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA), but the oil and gas industry disagrees, arguing that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has never regulated fracking under the SWDA.

According to the Sanders campaign, a secondary amendment to Amendment No. 41 of the platform calls for "closing the Halliburton loophole that stripped the EPA of its ability to regulate fracking, and ensuring tough safeguards are in place, including SWDA provisions, to protect local water supplies."

The secondary amendment calls for reducing methane emissions "from all oil and gas production and transportation by at least 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2025 through common-sense standards for both new and existing sources and by repairing and replacing thousands of miles of leaky pipes." It also states that Democrats believe that CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases "should be priced to reflect their negative externalities, and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy and help meet our climate goals."

The platform will be submitted to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia for approval at the end of the month.

Last May, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump voiced strong support for the energy industry and endorsed fracking (see Shale DailyMay 26). He also took shots at Sanders and Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, for their opposition to the practice.

Also last May, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said it was keeping in regular contact with both the Clinton and Trump campaigns in order to educate them on energy issues (see Shale DailyMay 17). API did not return a call seeking comment by deadline Monday.

Environmental groups voiced strong support for the final draft of the Democrats' platform.

"This is the strongest platform in history when it comes to tackling the climate crisis, transitioning off of fossil fuels, and growing our clean energy economy," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. "The positive differences between this platform and the ones unveiled four and eight years ago are astonishing, and we applaud everyone on the committee for advocating for the bold, ambitious action we need to tackle the climate crisis and protect the health of every community."

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