Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton set ambitious goals to combat climate change Monday but still wouldn’t take a position on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that environmentalists warn will contribute to global warming.
Mrs. Clinton has dodged questions about the controversial oil pipeline since the campaign began, and she again ducked the issue even as she vowed to “decarbonize” America and make it the “world’s clean energy superpower.”
She said that she couldn’t offer an opinion because she helped establish the approval process for the pipeline when she was President Obama’s secretary of state.
“No other presidential candidate was secretary of state when this process started, and I put together a very thorough, deliberative, evidence-based process to evaluate the environmental impact and other considerations of Keystone,” Mrs. Clinton said at an event in Des Moines, Iowa, where she touted her plan to fight climate change.
“I will refrain from commenting because I had a leading role in getting that process started, and I think that we have to let it run its course,” she said.
Environmentalists fiercely oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Nebraska and link to existing pipelines to the Gulf Coast, and have made opposition to it a litmus test for Democratic presidential candidates.
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The former first lady, senator and top diplomat already had come under fire for rolling out a climate change agenda that featured ambitious goals but lacked details about how she would accomplish it, as well as sidestepping other hot-button issues such as offshore oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is waging a long-shot bid for Democratic presidential nomination, pounced on Mrs. Clinton for the omission.
“Governor O’Malley is opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline because we can’t move to a clean energy future if we continue to rely on dirty, short-term fossil fuel fixes,” said O’Malley campaign manager Lis Smith. “Real leadership is about forging public opinion on issues like Keystone — not following it. Every Democrat should follow his lead and take a stand to commit to ending our reliance on fossil fuels.”
Sen. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent and avowed socialist who has emerged as Mrs. Clinton’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination, has used the pipeline to draw contrasts with the former secretary of state.
Still, Mrs. Clinton’s silence on the issue so far hasn’t stopped environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer from raising money for her.
She also continues to lead in the polls among Democratic candidates and remains the party’s all-but-inevitable nominee.
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However, her favorability numbers have taken a hit, and some polls show that the majority of voters don’t think she is trustworthy and honest in light of scandals involving her use of a private email account for official business as secretary of state and foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation while she was America’s top diplomat.
In her speech at a green-energy certified transit center in Des Moines, Mrs. Clinton stressed that she would remain the environmentalists’ preferred candidate over any of the Republican contenders, whom she dismissed as climate change deniers.
“The reality of climate change is unforgiving — no matter what the deniers say,” she said. “Sea levels are rising. Ice caps are melting. Storms, wildfires, and extreme weather are wreaking havoc.”
“This is one of the most urgent threats of our time, and we have no choice but to rise and meet it,” she said.
Republicans also seized on Mrs. Clinton’s refusal to take a position on the pipeline.
“Hillary Clinton’s energy ‘plan’ is to raise more taxes and double down on President Obama’s EPA overreach, which held down wages and cost American jobs. Clinton avoided specifics and refused to take a position on important job-creating energy projects like the Keystone pipeline, reminding voters why they think she’s untrustworthy,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short.
Mrs. Clinton promised that on Day One of her presidency, she would set two goals to fight climate change: increase the number of solar panels in use by more than 500 million across the country by the end of her first term and set a 10-year goal of generating enough renewable energy to power every single home in America.
“Not some homes. Not most homes. Every home in America,” she said.
Mrs. Clinton said she would announce the details of her plan over the next few months.
To achieve the first two goals, Mrs. Clinton would launch a “Clean Energy Challenge” that forms a new partnership with states, cities and rural communities that are ready to lead on clean energy, according to the campaign.
The Challenge will include:
⦁ Competitive grants and other market-based incentives to empower states to exceed federal carbon pollution standards and accelerate clean energy deployment.
⦁ Awards for communities that successfully cut the red tape that slows rooftop solar installation times and increases costs for businesses and consumers.
⦁ Work with states, cities and rural communities to strengthen grid reliability and resilience, increase consumer choice and improve customer value.
⦁ Expand the Rural Utilities Service and other successful U.S. Department of Agriculture programs to help provide clean, reliable, and affordable energy, not just to rural Americans but to the rest of the country as well.
“I refuse to turn my back on what is one of the greatest threats and greatest opportunities America faces,” said Mrs. Clinton. “I refuse to let those who are deniers, who disagree with what we need to do to rip away all the progress we’ve made and leave our country exposed to the most severe consequences of climate change. America needs to lead this fight, not go MIA.”