If Hillary Clinton wins the nation’s highest office in 2016, she seems certain to pursue the kind of environmental, energy, and climate policies that earned Barack Obama praise as one of our “greenest” presidents. Certainly that is what the nation’s leading environmental activists seemed to expect when they gave her a tumultuous welcome at the annual dinner of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) last December 1.
In her speech to the LCV dinner – where she sat with Tom Steyer, the Democratic billionaire who has dedicated his fortune to fighting climate change – the former Secretary of State blasted the climate deniers, praised the president’s commitment to a green economy, and promised that America could become “the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.”
With those words, she echoed not only the rhetoric and policies of the Obama administration, but the programs of the Clinton Foundation, where promoting renewable energy, conservation, and a clean environment at home and abroad have been among the highest priorities since her husband left the White House. Ever since the defeat of the Kyoto Treaty on climate change in the U.S. Senate in 1999, both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have sought to promote those same goals in other ways – notably through the C-40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which the Clinton Foundation helped to organize.
As Secretary of State, Clinton strongly supported President Obama’s approach to climate and energy issues with her own set of policies, actions, and appointments. Less than a week after Obama’s inauguration in 2009, she named Todd Stern, a former Kyoto negotiator for President Clinton, as the nation’s first special envoy on climate change – a new diplomatic post with full ambassadorial rank, intended to demonstrate, as she remarked, “that the United States will be energetic, focused, strategic, and serious about addressing global climate change and the corollary issue of clean energy.”
Following Stern’s appointment, Clinton continued to push the issue through a series of new working groups and ongoing, intense negotiations in other countries and regions, all designed to promote cooperation toward reducing carbon pollution and promoting renewable technologies. Those efforts ranged from small-scale appropriate technology, such as solar-powered cook-stoves that reduce deaths from household carbon pollution and save trees, to major international negotiations over climate goals – including a famous late-night confrontation with China’s leaders in Copenhagen that saved the 2009 global climate summit from complete failure.
Hillary Clinton’s personal legacy of environmental action can be traced all the way back to her years in Arkansas. Serving as the first woman on the board of Walmart – a position for which she has often been criticized – Clinton led the giant company toward greener marketing, products, and practices that have since been imitated across the retail industry.
As U.S. senator from New York, she compiled a voting record well within the Democratic environmentalist mainstream, although her 82 percent lifetime LCV score was diminished by missing several votes during her 2008 presidential campaign. But while running for president the first time, Clinton also promoted an ambitious $50 billion “strategic energy fund” to invest in a clean energy “Apollo Project,” to be funded by a special tax on the “excess profits” of oil companies.
Still, Clinton is a politician, not an activist – and not everything she does or says has earned applause from the environmental community. She has refused to openly oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, even after leaving the government. And some environmentalists have criticized her position on shale gas extraction, or “fracking,” a term she seldom utters, because her State Department sought to promote natural gas exploration abroad.
At the LCV dinner, she described natural gas, which burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, as a “transitional” source of energy, bridging civilization toward the renewable future. At the same time, however, she added that “many of us have serious concerns with the risks associated with the rapidly expanding production of natural gas. Methane leaks in the production and transportation of natural gas pose a particularly troubling threat, so it is crucial we put in place smart regulations and enforce them, including deciding not to drill when the risks to local communities, landscapes and ecosystems are just too high.”
“Our economy still runs primarily on fossil fuels and trying to change that will take strong leadership,” she said. With determined guidance, she added, “we do not have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.”
Whatever may or may not be known about Hillary Clinton’s vision for the presidency, one thing ought to be obvious by now: She is far more likely to provide that kind of environmental leadership than any of the oil-owned, climate-denying Republicans she may face in November 2016.