If she supports the pipeline, she’ll run afoul of the Democratic Party’s increasingly vocal environmentalist base, as well as climate-minded donors like billionaire Tom Steyer, who has ties to the Clintons. That could provide an opening for a liberal opponent in the 2016 primaries, similar to the way Barack Obama outflanked her with the anti-war left in 2008.
But if she opposes Keystone, she’ll go up against labor unions that welcome the project’s promise of thousands of jobs — along with moderate Democrats and, according to polls, most of the American public.
Clinton has offered no public comments about the pipeline in 3½ years, and until now people in her circle have declined to address it too. But people close to Clinton told POLITICO this week that she won’t weigh in on the project anytime soon, saying it would be inappropriate for her to appear to push either Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry on an issue that’s still under review. . . .
But some in the party are worried. “The nightmare is that Democratic primary voters would put withering pressure on her to come out against the pipeline in the primary, a position that would be a huge liability in the general election,” said former Clinton administration climate aide Paul Bledsoe, who thinks Obama should approve Keystone. “As a general election issue, it’s a no-brainer.”
That pressure is going to increase, said one person with close ties to the environmental movement. “Once Obama makes a decision, then the pressure on HRC will amp up on [Keystone] from mainstream enviros,” the person said in an email. “In the meantime, if I’m Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders or any other person running for POTUS regardless of HRC, I would come out loud and hard against [Keystone] as a way of rallying true believers in early states,” especially Iowa and New Hampshire.
Another potential rival in 2016 is Vice President Joe Biden, whom a Sierra Club activist quoted last year as saying during a rope-line greeting that he opposes the pipeline. Biden’s office declined to confirm whether he said that, but it became instant lore among climate activists.
Some Keystone opponents already distrust Clinton based on her one public comment about the pipeline — off-the-cuff remarks at a San Francisco speaking engagement in 2010 in which she said the department was “inclined” to green-light the project.
“We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada … until we can get our act together as a country and figure out that clean, renewable energy is in both our economic interests and the interests of our planet,” said the then-secretary of State, whose department was studying the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline’s potential environmental impacts.
Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, also indicated he favors the pipeline during remarks in 2012 that still appear in pro-Keystone television ads.
Some Keystone opponents have repeatedly accused the State Department of favoritism toward the project, including during the years when she was secretary. Climate activist Bill McKibben, co-founder of the group 350.org, also blamed her for the disappointing outcome of international climate negotiations in 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark, which he called “certainly the biggest foreign policy fiasco of the first Obama term.”
“And she wanted to approve Keystone before there was any data on it,” McKibben said. “So I’d say there’s no huge reservoir of trust just yet.”
Other environmentalists point to the fact that Clinton has made climate change a major theme of several of her speeches in recent months. During March remarks in Arizona, for example, she called for a “mass movement” to tackle the issue.
Privately, Clinton allies said those comments reflect concerns she’s heard from people, some of them donors, about moving the issue to the forefront. . . .
Bledsoe said one person who can take Keystone off Clinton’s plate is Obama, who could neutralize the issue by approving the pipeline.
“Of all the reasons to approve Keystone, clearing the way for Hillary Clinton may be the most salient,” Bledsoe said. “If Obama denies the permit, Keystone will become a massive litmus test issue in the Democratic primary for the left and a huge rallying cry for Republicans in the general election.”
But environmental activists say they’ll continue pushing Clinton to take a stance. Neutrality is an “untenable” position for Clinton, Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica said.
“She’s going to have to have a position on it,” he said in an interview. “She can’t urge young Americans to rise up and lead on climate change if she herself isn’t willing to take controversial positions on projects that exacerbate climate change.”* * *
Andrew Restuccia and Maggie Haberman, “Hillary Clinton’s Keystone headache,” Politico.