Where’s Clinton on the Environment? That Depends
Policy + Politics

Where’s Clinton on the Environment? That Depends

When environmentally conscious voters head to the polls next year for the presidential election, they’ll likely have a firm sense of where Hillary Clinton stands on the issues. And if they’re single-issue voters looking at Clinton in the general election, they will most likely pull the lever for her. 

Put her on the ballot next to virtually any of the current high-profile GOP Republican contenders and it’s no contest. From her time in the Senate, Clinton has a lifetime record with the League of Conservation Voters of 82 out of 100. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), on the other hand, has a lifetime rating of 11, as does South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, with lifetime ratings of 9, don’t even make it to double digits. 

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In a Democratic primary, however, it’s not clear Clinton grabs the environmentalist vote. Some of her possible opponents can credibly claim to be more environmentally minded, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who boasts a lifetime rating of 95. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who many hope will enter the race, is rated 94. 

So where does Clinton stand? On the most general questions, her positions are very much aligned with mainstream environmental voters. 

Clinton believes in global warming and thinks action to halt it is necessary. Last December she said in a speech, “The science of climate change is unforgiving, no matter what the deniers may say. Sea levels are rising; ice caps are melting; storms, droughts and wildfires are wreaking havoc.” She added, “If we act decisively now we can still head off the most catastrophic consequences.” 

She is on record as supporting the tough new rules sought by the Obama administration against pollution emitted by power plants. During her presidential run in 2007-2008, she supported slashing U.S. carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050 and imposing a cap-and-trade system to require polluters to pay for the carbon dioxide they release into the atmosphere. 

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Clinton also has a strong legislative record of supporting funding for clean energy programs and for increasing so-called “green collar” jobs; she was in favor of proposals for carbon neutral construction techniques. 

Yet during her time in the Senate and as Secretary of State, Clinton made some compromises. A look at her record – particularly while at State – reveals a candidate far from a doctrinaire environmentalist. 

For example, environmentalists almost uniformly oppose hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, which uses the high-pressure injection of water and chemicals into the earth to free natural gas from shale rock deposits. Clinton, however, was an advocate for U.S. energy firms specializing in fracking while Secretary of State. In 2012, she traveled to Bulgaria to lobby the government against a law preventing U.S. extraction firm Chevron from using hydraulic fracturing to exploit shale gas reserves there. 

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Another issue that might raise environmentalists’ eyebrows is that the Clinton Foundation, an umbrella organization that includes the Clinton Global Initiative and other charitable ventures run by the Clintons, takes a lot of money from the energy sector. ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil have donated huge sums, as have the governments of such oil-producing nations as Saudi Arabia and Canada. 

Clinton has been notably silent on the Keystone Pipeline. When she was Secretary of State, her department began a review that will ultimately play a role in deciding if the controversial project should be built. In public remarks since returning to private life, she has still consistently refused to take a position on whether or not the project should be approved. 

She also supported offshore oil drilling – another bugbear of environmentalists – and campaigned for former Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who made defying her party on fossil fuels a signature (and unsuccessful, of course) position last year.   

As the 2016 campaign goes forward and particularly if Hillary Clinton finds herself opposed in a Democratic primary by a candidate with a strong environmental record, she’ll have to take more definitive positions on some issues, such as Keystone, that she’s so far avoided.   

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When she announced her run for president earlier this month, Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta tweeted out a mention of climate change and clean energy as top priorities in a Clinton White House.

It may have been a true signal, or it may have been a sop to the party’s environmental wing. In either case, it’s a long road from an advisor’s Twitter feed to actual administration policy – with at least one, if not two, elections along the way. 

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