WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden was called out during a climate change forum on Wednesday for planning to attend a fundraiser hosted by the co-founder of a natural gas export company, after he had pledged not to take fossil-fuel company money.
FILE PHOTO: Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a campaign rally in Dover, New Hampshire, U.S. September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo
A voter asked Biden, one of the 10 Democratic White House hopefuls in a seven-hour series of climate town halls on CNN, why he was planning to attend a fundraiser to be held this week by Andrew Goldman, co-founder of Western LNG, a company looking to export liquefied natural gas.
Biden said that Goldman, an adviser to him when he was a U.S. senator, was not a fossil-fuel executive.
“What I was told by my staff is that he did not have any responsibility relating to the company,” Biden said. “He was not on the board, he was not involved at all in the operation of the company at all.”
Biden said if it turned out that Goldman was involved in the operations, “then I will not in anyway accept his help.”
The former vice president and all his Democratic rivals have agreed not to accept any donations from fossil-fuel companies or their employees.
Goldman, who is listed among Western LNG’s leadership on the company’s website, did not immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.
The exchange highlighted the political tensions involved in trying to lead the country off oil, coal and gas, a goal central to most of the plans offered by Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to take on Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.
Many politicians from both parties say fossil fuels will be around for decades and that exports of LNG, which burns cleaner than coal or gas, can also help countries like India and China reduce deadly air pollution problems and provide Europe with alternatives to piped gas from Russia.
The forums pitted moderates like Biden against progressives such as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and offered Democratic presidential candidates an opportunity in a crowded presidential field to stand out on an issue increasingly important to voters.
Trump blasted the climate proposals of his Democratic challengers for the White House as they began showcasing their plans in the marathon round of televised town halls.
“The Democrats’ destructive ‘environmental’ proposals will raise your energy bill and prices at the pump,” Trump said in a tweet. Trump rejects mainstream climate science and has reversed Obama-era initiatives meant to curb emissions, promote alternatives to fossil fuels and join the world in fighting the crisis.
CLIMATE CHANGE AS OPPORTUNITY
Other Democratic candidates were split during the forums on whether or how to ban fracking of natural gas and oil, a technique that environmentalists say poses risks to air and water quality. Some environmentalists say fracking prolongs dependence on gas, slowing a transition to renewable energy like wind and solar power.
Asked whether she would ban fracking, Senator Kamala Harris said yes. The California lawmaker said she would start by taking executive action to ban the practice on federal lands and seek congressional legislation to ban it elsewhere.
Julian Castro, the housing secretary under former President Barack Obama, said he would not immediately ban fracking but supported local governments that did. Senator Amy Klobuchar called natural gas a “transitional fuel” and said that while she would not ban fracking, she would review in her first 100 days in office every fracking permit that had been issued.
Concerns about the environment have spiked as fires burn in the Arctic and Amazon, ice melts in Greenland and strong storms this year have flooded farms in Midwestern states. The forums featured updates on Hurricane Dorian, which closed in on South Carolina, after killing 20 people in the Bahamas.
Biden is seeking to win back workers in industrial states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia who went for Trump in 2016. His $1.7 trillion plan supports carbon capture and sequestration, a technique to bury carbon and help utilities transition to cleaner sources of energy. The plan has been criticized by rivals as offering a middle ground that would not achieve goals to reduce emissions.
Sanders has taken a more confrontational approach. His $16.3 trillion plan does away with gasoline-powered cars and new nuclear power. It would also ban carbon capture and sequestration, even though U.N. climate scientists say that is integral to staving off the worst effects of climate change.
The town-hall format on climate emerged after the Democratic National Committee in August rejected debates on single issues like climate. The other Democrats who qualified for Wednesday’s event were South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, former congressman Beto O’Rourke and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Valerie Volcovici and Sharon Bernstein in Los Angeles; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Peter Cooney