Green & Greenbacks

Hillary Praises Fracking, Stays Silent on Keystone

At a speech to an environmental advocacy group, Clinton came out in favor of fracking—and ignored the controversial pipeline project.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

At a speech to the League of Conservation Voters in midtown Manhattan Monday night, before hundreds of deep-pocketed donors, Hillary Clinton praised the environmental legacy of Teddy Roosevelt, touted the prospect of new green technologies, and had warm words for Barack Obama’s aggressive efforts to combat climate change.

Absent from the former Secretary of State’s speech? Any sense of where she stood on the controversial Keystone pipeline project, or what she would do differently as president to steer the nation towards a more sustainable future.

But that didn’t mean that Clinton wasn’t clear about where she came down on environmental matters—she praised both her husband’s record of cleaning up air and water standards, and the Obama administrations recent efforts to strike a climate deal with China and to toughen pollution standards.

“We continue to push forward. But that is just the beginning. Science of climate change is unforgiving, no matter what the deniers may say,” Clinton said, reading off of prepared remarks.

The former Secretary of State alluded to the need to wean the nation off of fossil fuels, but noted that, “the political challenges are also unforgiving. There is no getting around the fact that the kind of ambitious response required to effectively combat climate change is going to a be a tough sell at home and around the world at a time when so many countries around the world, including our own, are grappling with slow growth and stretch budgets.”

Clinton was vague about the kind of response needed to address climate change, coming down neither in favor of the traditional Democratic carbon tax or the Republican (pre-Obama, at least) cap and trade plan.

Instead, Clinton, much as her husband has done, pushed for market-based solutions to social problems, arguing that green technologies would enable economic growth and would slow the effects of climate change. She called for “next generation” power plants, smarter grids and greener buildings, describing a “false choice between growing our economy and protecting our environment.”

Clinton did, however, come out in favor of natural gas drilling, known as hydrofracking, which has become a key cause for environmental activists, who say that the risks involved in natural gas drilling are not yet known.

“Yes, natural gas can play an important bridge role in the transition to a cleaner, greener economy,” Clinton said, adding that safeguards should be in place to minimize environmental risk.

But if Clinton waded into the natural gas debate, she entirely avoided the Keystone one.

That debate took center stage over the midterms when financier Tom Steyer pledged $100 million to pro-environment candidates and made the pipeline a litmus test. Republicans rallied to the cause, arguing that the pipeline would create jobs. (Nonpartisan experts say that both the pipeline’s negative environmental effects and positive job creation projections are overstated.) Last month, embattled Democrat Mary Landrieu pushed for a vote on Keystone in order to boost her standing in her December run-off re-election. The measure failed in the Senate in a vote that received warm praise from LCV president Gene Karpinski in his introduction of Clinton.

Clinton appeared at a fundraiser for Landrieu earlier in the day.

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Karpinski, who said that he was confident that Obama would reject Keystone, said he did not have a problem with Clinton’s support for Landrieu.

“Look, the Clintons and the Landrieu families have been friends going back in history. And all kinds of friends of ours have raised money for Mary Landrieu to support her as a candidate. There is nothing surprising. This is what people do.”

Karpinski wasn’t the only one willing to cut a not-yet-candidate Clinton some leeway. Exiting the hotel ballroom, philanthropist Tom Steyer also seemed to give Clinton a pass for not mentioning the pipeline project.

“I always respect what Secretary Clinton has to say. She is always smart and she is always wise. And I thought she did a great job.”

Asked whether she should have mentioned the pipeline project, he merely said, “I thought her speech was great.”