Michael Levi, a prominent apologist for the Keystone XL pipeline, natural-gas exports, and other fossil-fuel industry priorities, has joined the White House, Hill Heat has learned. Yesterday, Levi began work as a Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Economic Policy on the National Economic Council staff.
For ten years, Levi was Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for energy and climate policy. Previously, Levi was a nuclear non-proliferation expert at the Brookings Institution, while pursuing his doctorate at the University of London.
Possessed of undeniable brilliance, Levi has no formal training in climate science, economics, or energy policy; his undergraduate and master’s degrees are in physics, and his doctorate is in War Studies. In 2008 he began publishing on climate policy, overseeing a major CFR Task Force report on U.S. climate policy chaired by Tom Vilsack and George Pataki. He quickly established himself as a prominent (and convenient) climate centrist-cum-contrarian—embracing the urgency of climate action, while criticizing other proponents of strong climate policy and providing convoluted arguments for the continued expansion of fossil-fuel and nuclear projects. (Levi calls his approach a most-of the above policy.) Over the years, his pursuits included taking a skeptical view of green jobs, promoting tar sands exploitation, and defending natural gas as a bridge fuel.
Levi’s position as CFR’s energy and climate expert was endowed by David Rubenstein, the founder of the Carlyle Group, a major investor in the oil and gas industry.
Levi is part of a generation of industry-friendly climate experts whose influence is on the rise with the ascension of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, whose numbers also include Heather Zichal (BA, Rutgers), the Rhodium Group’s Trevor Houser (BA, City College of New York) and Columbia University’s Jason Bordoff (Harvard Law). These people are pundits whose careers as climate experts have been sponsored by fossil-fuel industry investors despite a lack of training in climate science. They are now in position to shape United States climate policy if Clinton succeeds President Obama in November.
Climate Movement Flexes Political Power: Clinton's Democratic Platform Adopts Strong Climate Principles
Sanders and Clinton delegates speak in support of unity climate amendment.
However, the Sanders delegates, led by Josh Fox, were unable to get the platform to include language calling for a national moratorium on fracking. Led by Hillary Clinton energy advisor Trevor Houser, the committee adopted language calling for more regulation of fracking and a rebuilding of existing natural-gas infrastructure instead.
The text of the adopted unity amendment is below:
Page 19 Line 18, insert: Democrats believe that carbon dioxide, 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. Democrats believe that climate change is too important to wait for climate deniers and defeatists in Congress to start listening to science, and support using every tool available to reduce emissions now.
Page 19, Line 26, insert: We will streamline federal permitting to accelerate the construction of new transmission lines to get low-cost renewable energy to market, and incentivize wind, solar and other renewable energy over the development of new natural gas power plants.
We support President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. As we continue working to reduce carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions, we most ensure federal actions don’t “significantly exacerbate” global warming. We support a comprehensive approach that insures all federal decisions going forward contribute to solving, not significantly exacerbating climate change.
Democrats believe that our commitment to meeting the climate challenge most also be reflected in the infrastructure investments we make. We need to make our existing infrastructure safer and cleaner and build the new infrastructure necessary to power our clean energy future. To create good-paying middle class jobs that can’t be outsourced, Democrats support high labor standards in clean energy infrastructure, and the right to form or join a union, whether in renewable power or advanced vehicle manufacturing. During the clean energy transition, we will insure landowners, communities of color and tribal nations are at the table.
The text of Houser’s amendment supporting the continued fracking of natural gas is below:
Democrats are committed to closing the Halliburton loophole that stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate hydraulic fracturing, and ensuring tough safeguards are in place, including Safe Drinking Water provisions, to protect local water supplies. We believe hydraulic fracturing should not take place where states and local communities oppose it. We will reduce 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. This will both protect our climate and create thousands of good-paying jobs.
Climate Hawks Vote is calling for the Democratic Platform to call for a national ban on fracking.
Under President Obama’s leadership . . . We are getting more of our energy from the sun and wind, and importing less oil from overseas.
Democrats believe that climate change poses a real and urgent threat to our economy, our national security, and our children’s health and futures, and that Americans deserve the jobs and security that come from becoming the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.
2. Create Good-Paying Jobs
We will build 21st century energy and water systems, modernize our schools, and continue to support the expansion of high-speed broadband networks. We will protect communities from the impact of climate change by investing in green and resilient infrastructure.
c. Clean Energy Jobs
We must help American workers and businesses compete for jobs and investments in global clean energy, high-tech products, internet technology products, and advanced manufacturing and vehicles. And we must make American manufacturing more internationally competitive by making it the greenest and most efficient in the world, including by investing in industrial energy efficiency.
3. Fight for Economic Fairness and Against Inequality
Democrats will claw back tax breaks for 22 companies that ship jobs overseas, eliminate tax breaks for big oil and gas companies, and crack 23 down on inversions and other methods companies use to dodge their tax responsibilities.
On the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), there are a diversity of views in the party. Many Democrats are on record stating that the agreement does not meet the standards set out in this platform; other Democrats have expressed support for the agreement.
4. Bring Americans Together and Remove Barriers to Create Ladders of Opportunity
k. Honoring Indigenous Tribal Nations
We are committed to principles of environmental justice in Indian Country and we recognize that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate its vital cycles. We call for a climate change policy that protects tribal resources, protects tribal health, and provides accountability through accessible, culturally appropriate participation and strong enforcement. Our climate change policy will cut carbon emission, address poverty, invest in disadvantaged communities, and improve both air quality and public health. We support the tribal nations to develop wind, solar and other clean energy jobs.
6. Combat Climate Change, Build a Clean Energy Economy, and Secure Environmental Justice
Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time. Fifteen of the hottest years on record have occurred this century. While Donald Trump has called climate change a “hoax”, 2016 is on track to break global temperature records once more. Cities from Miami to Baltimore are already threatened by rising seas. California and the West have suffered years of brutal drought. Alaska has been scorched by wildfire. New York has been battered by superstorms, and Texas swamped by flash floods. The best science tells us that without ambitious, immediate action to cut carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases across our economy, all of these impacts will be far worse in the future. We cannot leave our children a planet that has been profoundly damaged.
Democrats share a deep commitment to tackling the climate challenge; creating millions of good-paying middle class jobs; reducing greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050; and meeting the pledge President Obama put forward in the landmark Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperature increases to “well below” two degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We believe America must be running entirely on clean energy by mid-century. We will take bold steps to slash carbon pollution and protect clean air at home, lead the fight against climate change around the world, ensure no Americans are left out or left behind as we accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy, and be responsible stewards of our natural resources and our public lands and waters. Democrats reject the notion that we have to choose between protecting our planet and creating good-paying jobs. We can and we will do both.
Clean Energy Economy
We are committed to getting 50 percent of our electricity from clean energy sources within a decade, with half a billion solar panels installed within four years and enough renewable energy to power every home in the country. We will cut energy waste in American homes, schools, hospitals, and offices; modernize our electric grid; and make American manufacturing the cleanest and most efficient in the world, creating new jobs and saving families and businesses money on their energy bills. And we will transform American transportation by reducing oil consumption through cleaner fuels, making new investments in public transportation, expanding electrification of the vehicle fleet, increasing the fuel efficiency of cars, boilers, ships, and trucks, and by building bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure across our urban and suburban areas. Democrats believe the tax code must reflect our commitment to a clean energy future by eliminating special tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies as well as defending and extending tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy.
Democrats are committed to defending, implementing, and extending smart pollution and efficiency standards, including the Clean Power Plan, fuel economy standards for automobiles and heavy-duty vehicles, building codes and appliance standards, and the reduction of methane emissions from oil and gas production. We will work to expand access to cost-saving renewable energy by low-income households, create good-paying jobs in communities that have struggled with energy poverty, and oppose efforts by utilities to limit consumer choice or slow clean energy deployment. We support President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. And we believe that the federal government should lead by example, which is why we will take steps to power the government with 100 percent clean electricity.
Environmental and Climate Justice
Democrats believe clean air and clean water are basic rights of all Americans. Yet as we saw in Flint, Michigan, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately home to environmental justice “hot spots,” where air pollution, water pollution, and toxic hazards like lead increase health and economic hardship. The impacts of climate change will also disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities, tribal nations, and Alaska Native villages—all of which suffer the worst losses during extreme weather and have the fewest resources to prepare. Simply put, this is environmental racism. The fight against climate change must not leave any community out or behind—including the coal communities who kept America’s lights on for generations. Democrats will fight to make sure these workers and their families get the benefits they have earned and the respect they deserve, and we will make new investments in energy producing communities to help create jobs and build a brighter and more resilient economic future.
All corporations owe it to their shareholders to fully analyze and disclose the risks they face, including climate risk. Those who fail to do so should be held accountable. Democrats also respectfully request the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies accused of misleading shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change.
Public Lands and Waters
Democrats believe in the conservation and collaborative stewardship of our shared natural heritage: the public lands and waterways, the oceans, Great Lakes, the Arctic, and all that makes America’s great outdoors priceless. As a nation, we need policies and investments that will keep America’s public lands public, strengthen protections for our natural and cultural resources, increase access to parks and public lands for all Americans, protect species and wildlife, and harness the immense economic and social potential of our public lands and waters.
We oppose drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast, and believe we need to reform fossil fuel leasing on public lands. We can phase down extraction of fossil fuels from our public lands, starting with the most polluting sources, while making our public lands and waters engines of the clean energy economy and creating jobs across the country.
11. Global Threats
g. Climate Change
Climate change poses an urgent and severe threat to our national security. According to the military, climate change is a threat multiplier that is already contributing to new conflicts over resources, catastrophic natural disasters, and the degradation of vital ecosystems across the globe. While Donald Trump says that climate change is a “hoax” created by and for the Chinese, Democrats recognize the danger facing our country and our planet. We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis. We will not only meet the goals we set in Paris, we will seek to exceed them and push other countries to do the same by slashing carbon pollution and rapidly driving down emissions of potent greenhouse gases like hydrofluorocarbons. We will support developing countries in their efforts to mitigate carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases, deploy more clean energy, and invest in climate resilience and adaptation. And as a proud Arctic nation, we are against putting the region at risk through drilling in the Arctic Ocean or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Instead, while protecting our strategic interests, we will seek collaborative, science-based approaches to be good stewards of the rapidly changing Arctic region.
Climate Amendments Considered By Democratic Platform Drafting Committee: Incrementalism Outvotes Urgency
CARBON TAX (rejected) : “Carbon and other greenhouse gases should be taxed at a level high enough to transition away from fossil fuel consistent with the goals established in Paris in 2015.”
FRACKING BAN (rejected) : “We call for a full national moratorium on fracking.”
KEEP IT IN THE GROUND (rejected) : “Democrats believe that the United States should lead the global community in keeping over 80% of all known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground. Democrats agree that the next President of the United States should not grant new leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and waters nor renewing existing leases at their expiration.”
PHASE DOWN (adopted) : “We can phase down extraction of fossil fuels from our public lands, starting with the most polluting sources, while making our public lands and water an engine of a clean-energy economy, creating jobs across the country.”
FOSSIL-FUELED EMINENT DOMAIN (rejected) : “Democrats believe government should not aid private companies with eminent domain to build fossil-fuel infrastructure in the United States.”
WALK-BIKE (adopted) : “And by expanding bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure across our urban and suburban areas.”
CLEAN ENERGY ACCESS (adopted) : “Work to expand access to low-cost clean energy to low-income households and oppose efforts by utilities to slow clean-energy deployment.”
CLIMATE TEST (rejected) : Insert after “Keystone XL pipeline”: “—and we believe the same test that he applied in that case, whether or not new infrastructure would ‘significantly exacerbate’ global warming, should be adopted across federal agencies.”
EXXON KNEW (adopted) : “Democrats agree that the US Department of Justice should investigate alleged corporate fraud by fossil fuel companies for any efforts to deceive the American people about the dangers of climate change. We respectfully request the Department investigate these allegations and take appropriate action should the investigation yield evidence of wrongdoing.”
100% ‘CLEAN’ ENERGY (adopted) : “…reducing greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 and meeting the pledge President Obama put forth in the landmark Paris agreement to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees. We believe America must be running on clean energy entirely by mid-century.”
Beginning on Wednesday, the Democratic Party plans to hold a two-day forum in Washington DC to solicit public testimony on the national platform. Details on when and where the forum will take place were released to press on Saturday. The forum was announced on May 27.
On Wednesday, June 8th and Thursday, June 9th at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., the 2016 Democratic Platform Drafting Committee will hold the first in a series of regional events. The forum is broken up into three thematic sessions, the first beginning at 1:30 pm on Wednesday and scheduled to go to 5 pm. Thursday has two sessions scheduled, a morning session from 9 am to 12 pm, and and afternoon session from 1 pm to 5 pm.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Platform Drafting Chair Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) CEO, Rev. Leah D. Daughtry will deliver opening remarks at the forum. The Drafting Committee will then hear from policy experts and other Democrats, chosen from people who have applied to testify.
The schedule for Wednesday involves one afternoon session entitled “Leveling the Playing Field: Creating Opportunity and Removing Barriers.” Thursday morning is “Moving America Forward: Education, Jobs, and the Economy,” and the afternoon is “America’s Role in the World.”
Although there are not explicit references to climate, energy, and the environment in the session titles, it is expected to come up in public testimony.
The Platform Drafting Committee includes two prominent environmentalists, one chosen by each campaign. Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, was selected by the Sanders campaign. Carol Browner, the former EPA Administrator under Clinton’s husband, and the chair of the League of Conservation Voters (which endorsed Hillary Clinton last fall), was selected by the Clinton campaign. Browner works for the international lobbying and consulting firm Albright Stonebridge Group.
See below for the full press release:
In an unannounced climate-change ad running in upstate New York, the Hillary Clinton campaign declares allegiance with the anti-fracking movement, despite the candidate’s support for fracking. With images of dirty rigs and anti-fracking protest signs, the narrator promises that a President Clinton will “stand firm with New Yorkers opposing fracking, giving communities the right to say no.”
The ad’s characterization of Clinton’s stance on fracking is technically accurate, though misleading, as Clinton will cede localities control over fracking, while supporting natural gas as a ‘bridge fuel’. One could say that Clinton will “stand firm” with other states supporting fracking, such as Wyoming, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. Clinton has not taken a position on the Constitution Pipeline, a controversial fracked-gas pipeline being constructed through upstate New York from Pennsylvania. Clinton is on record supporting “new natural gas pipeline investment.”
Her opponent, Bernie Sanders, unequivocally opposes fracking nationally.
The television ad also credits Clinton’s work at the failed Copenhagen climate talks for “laying the groundwork” for the Paris climate agreement. The ad confusingly displays a photo of Clinton at Copenhagen under a Washington Post headline about the Paris talks six years later.
The ad began running in upstate New York communities on Wednesday, April 13, six days before the April 19th primary. It has aired over 200 times cumulatively on Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, Watertown, Elmira, Binghamton, and Utica stations.
The ad was not announced to the press by the campaign, allowing it to avoid scrutiny by fact-checkers or the public. Following New York, the election heads to Pennsylvania, where fracking is allowed.
At last night’s Democratic town hall in Columbus, Ohio, Hillary Clinton bluntly declared her intention to shut down the American coal industry in order to fight global warming pollution. Clinton went on to say that “we’ve got to move away from coal, and all the other fossil fuels.” Her declaration of war on the fossil-fuel industry was in the context of her plan to support job transitions into renewable energy and other sectors for the coal miners:
“I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity — using clean, renewable energy as the key — into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business. And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives, to turn our lights and power our factories. Now we’ve got to move away from coal, and all the other fossil fuels. But I don’t want to move away from the people who did their best to produce the energy we rely on.”
By stating that “we’ve got to move away” from all fossil fuels, Clinton recognized the first law of climate policy: global warming won’t end until we stop burning fossil fuels.
However, in this campaign she is promoting a long glide path towards that goal, which involves increased domestic and international fracking as a “bridge” to a zero-carbon pollution future. She has not set a date for such a transition; like her Democratic opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, she has set a goal of an 80 percent reduction in domestic greenhouse pollution by 2050. Unlike Sanders she supports continued domestic production of fossil fuels for domestic use and for export, which threatens the climate goals set by President Barack Obama and her successor at the State Department, John Kerry.
Clinton misspoke when she claimed to be the “only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity — using clean, renewable energy as the key — into coal country.” In fact, in December Sanders introduced legislation with that specific aim, the Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act (S. 2398). The 2007 climate legislation introduced by Sanders and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and 2013 Boxer-Sanders climate legislation had similar provisions.
In fact, in 2007 Clinton co-sponsored a Sanders amendment which successfully allocated $100 million for green-collar job training and resources, including for displaced energy-industry workers.
Marc Lasry and Hillary Clinton
In 2014, Lasry, founder and chair of Avenue Capital Group, raised $1.3 billion for a fund that bought loans of distressed energy companies, only to watch the debt become even more worthless. $200 million raised for the Avenue Energy Opportunities Fund came from the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System. Lasry has shrugged off the losses, confident the good times will come again for the frackers.
“There’s going to be a huge turnaround on energy,” Lasry told reporters this January. The oil and gas slump has hurt exploration and production companies, but prices “will always come back. The question is, does it take six months or does it take three years?”
Meanwhile, Marc Lasry—a co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks—has become a top contributor and bundler for the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign. When Clinton announced her campaign, Lasry emailed his friends looking to quickly raise $270,000 with ten maxed-out contributions of $2700 each.
“It’s been a long time coming, and now there’s a huge amount of excitement behind her,” Lasry told Bloomberg News. “You will start seeing it in the numbers as people start donating.”
The exact amount of money bundled by Lasry has not been publicly disclosed; the Clinton campaign only discloses which bundlers have raised over $100,000.
“She’s moving a little bit to the left, and I think that’s fine,” Lasry told Bloomberg in May 2015, after hosting one her first campaign fundraisers at his townhouse. “People who are giving money to her understand that. Obviously, some people have some issues. I think the vast majority won’t have issues.”
On February 12 of this year, Clinton came out in favor of new domestic natural-gas fracking and pipeline infrastructure.
Marc Lasry has deep financial and familial ties to the Clintons and Obamas.
Lasry’s daughter Samantha was a Congressional intern for Rahm Emanuel in 2005, the future chief of staff for Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Lasry donated to Rahm’s campaign.
In 2006, Marc Lasry hired Chelsea Clinton to work at his hedge fund, Avenue Capital Group, while Hillary Clinton was Senator of New York. Meanwhile, Lasry contributed to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Marc Lasry was a top contributor and bundler for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Meanwhile, Alexander Lasry, his son, was a special assistant to Valerie Jarrett in the Obama White House from 2010 to 2012.
In 2011, Marc Lasry and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein invested in Eaglevale Partners, the hedge fund set up by Marc Mezvinsky, Chelsea Clinton’s husband. Lasry invested $1 million. The fund “underperformed.”
Oddly enough, Lasry was also one of Donald Trump’s top investors: he managed the bankruptcy buyout of Trump’s casinos in 2010. He then served as the chairman of Trump Entertainment Resorts, Inc. from 2011 to 2013, with a 22 percent stake and managerial control of the Trump Plaza, Trump Marina and Trump Taj Mahal casinos.
In the same interview this January where Lasry bet that the oil and gas industry would rise again, he expressed similar confidence about his chosen candidate.
“Hillary is going to be the next president of the United States.”
“Hillary Clinton supports fracking. I do not.”
These words appeared in a recent fundraising email from Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, which fiercely attacked fracking and Hillary Clinton’s support from and for the natural gas industry.In blunt language, Sanders contrasted his call for a national moratorium on fracking against Clinton’s fundraising from natural gas investors:
Just days before the Iowa caucus, Hillary Clinton left the campaign trail for a high-dollar fundraiser at a hedge fund. That same hedge fund is a major investor in fracking, an incredibly destructive practice of extracting natural gas by pumping hundreds of secret chemicals into the ground.
Hillary Clinton supports fracking. I do not.
And just as I believe you can’t take on Wall Street while taking their money, I don’t believe you can take on climate change effectively while taking money from those who would profit off the destruction of the planet.
Sanders’ email comes on the heels of the Clinton campaign’s February 12th release of a policy promoting new natural-gas extraction and infrastructure. Clinton’s promotion of “safe and responsible natural gas production” (the phrase “safe and responsible” was used five times) was praised by LiUNA, a trade union that had vigorously supported the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Domestically produced natural gas can play an important role in the transition to a clean energy economy,” Clinton’s policy position states, making no mention of the candidate’s February 4th pledge, caught on camera, to ban the extraction of fossil fuels, including natural gas, from public lands.
The conflict between Sanders and Clinton on natural gas is set to become a point of major political contention, as voters go to the polls next month in states overrun by fracking, including Oklahoma and Texas on March 1, Kansas and Nebraska on March 6, and Ohio on March 15. These states are reeling from the boom and bust of the fracking industry, left with earthquakes, degraded water supplies, and thousands of non-union workers exploited and poisoned by the private fracking companies Clinton’s donors have financed. Fights over natural-gas pipelines and facilities have mobilized activists in dozens of other states.
On a national scale, a growing body of scientific evidence is building that the climate benefits of switching from coal to natural gas were a total mirage, with the catastrophic Porter Ranch methane blowout the most visible and extreme example of a nationwide surge in methane leakage as a result of the domestic fracking boom promoted by the Bush and Obama administrations. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a twenty-year timespan.
Read Sanders’ full email:
At the upcoming Berkshire Hathaway shareholders' meeting, the Nebraska Peace Foundation and Bold Nebraska are presenting a proposal calling for a report from Berkshire Hathaway's insurance division (which includes Geico) on the risks posed by climate change. The board, following Buffett's wishes, is opposing the proposed report.
Buffett's conglomerate is increasingly invested in the fossil-fuel industry, from his anti-community-solar NV Energy utility in Nevada to his railroad company BNSF, which profits heavily from oil-train and coal-train traffic.
Download the shareholder resolution and Buffett's opposition here.
The text of Buffett's letter is below: