Sen. Bernard Sanders has outflanked Hillary Clinton on yet another key liberal issue, inking a deal to offset his campaign’s carbon emissions as a show of commitment to combating climate change, The Washington Times has learned.
Mrs. Clinton, by contrast, appears to be breaking her own pledge to go carbon-neutral.
Despite assuring reporters last summer, after being caught flying in a private jet, that she would pay to offset greenhouse gases from her campaign travels, Mrs. Clinton has yet to make any such payments, according to a Washington Times analysis. Carbon offset providers said they have even tried to connect with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign to help her, but have heard silence.
Her omission is all the more striking because it marks a reversal not just from her pledge this summer, but also her practice from her 2008 campaign, when she paid more than $80,000 to offset her campaign’s greenhouse gas emissions from July 2007 to July 2008.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign failed to respond to repeated messages seeking comment on the status of her pledge, which she made in July just after she was spotted boarding a private plane. She had just announced an outline of her plans to combat climate change.
An aide at the time promised CNN that Mrs. Clinton would soon detail specifics on how she would offset her carbon footprint, saying it would be part of a broader global warming plan. More than six months later, there is no evidence that she has lived up to that pledge — opening her to charges of hypocrisy.
“Talk is cheap, but offsets are expensive,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research. “It’s easy to say things if you don’t have to pay for them.”
Environmental groups were reluctant to comment on Mrs. Clinton’s situation.
“Afraid I can’t help,” said Denis Dison, communications director at the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a major player in the environmental movement and a fan of offsets.
Likewise, the League of Conservation Voters, which has endorsed Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, declined to comment.
“I appreciate you reaching out to us, but this is really a question for the campaign,” said spokeswoman Hannah Blatt.
Sanders supporters have criticized the league for its endorsement of Mrs. Clinton last year, so early in the process and despite questions of whether her commitment to environmental issues can match that of Mr. Sanders.
At the time, the League of Conservation Voters explained that its decision was partly a political calculation based on Mrs. Clinton’s chances of winning the White House.
Under the theory of offsets, an organization calculates the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it pumps into the air from activities, chiefly energy use and travel, and then pays for someone else to prevent that much in emissions or to take them out of the atmosphere. Options include planting trees that absorb carbon dioxide and capturing methane gas emitted from landfills.
Mr. Sanders, a fierce advocate for fighting climate change, has put his campaign’s money behind his commitment. He signed a contract with Native Energy, a Vermont-based company that has been a favorite of political operations. Indeed, it was the company Mrs. Clinton used in 2008.
Native Energy said the Sanders campaign will buy into one of its “Help Build” campaigns, which goes beyond offsets and pays for construction of green projects.
Mr. Sanders’s payments will cover the installation of gravity-fed biosand water filters, which are meant to replace the practice in many developing-world communities of boiling water to make it safe for use. The filters help with sanitation and prevent the need for communities to gather wood in an unsustainable fashion, the company says.
Tom Stoddard, a spokesman for the company, said the candidate’s commitment to stifling his climate impact goes hand in hand with his broader campaign message.
“Even though, say, Bernie’s message is focused so much on inequality, actions to address climate change are essential to and inextricably linked to inequality,” Mr. Stoddard said.
Native Energy said it has tried to connect with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign about offsets this year but hasn’t heard anything from her.
Carbon offsets were trendy last decade but fell out of favor as the economy slumped and businesses and average folks tightened their belts, deciding the environmental payments were luxuries.
It also didn’t help the industry that some of the offset providers were accused of running scams, selling the same offset, such as a planted tree, many times over. That led to a stratification, with some companies, including Native Energy, considered to be a top-tier program because it goes beyond offsets.
“Our primary business is working with businesses on their strategies for sustainability for the business,” said Native Energy President Jeff Bernicke. “Many of our clients have very strong commitments to addressing climate change, but also generally the workers and the consumers out there want to see authentic action to address climate change.”
Climate change has increasingly become a dividing line for the major political parties in Washington. While the need to act broadly and forcefully has become orthodoxy within the Democratic Party, Republican candidates who called for action were quickly drummed out of the party’s presidential primary.
Mr. Bernicke said there is a pro-economic argument to be made for renewable energy but he is not anticipating any Republican campaigns to sign up for offsets.
“We don’t have any hopes that we would be selling to the Republican candidates,” he said.
Mrs. Clinton, during her 2008 campaign, paid $80,016.85 to Native Energy and listed the expenses as “office utilities” in her campaign reports.
This campaign, her office does show tens of thousands of dollars going to “utilities” each quarter, but The Times review found that those were to cable providers and power companies.
Ironically, the Clinton Foundation, which her husband established and which she helped operate, has been an active player in the offsets world. The Clinton Development Initiative set up the Trees of Hope offset program in Malawi with a goal of planting millions of trees to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.
Trees of Hope works in partnership with Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty, a major offset provider.
Tim Whitley, founder and CEO of anti-poverty group, said in an email to The Times that it still partners with the Clinton Foundation in Trees of Hope, one of its four offset projects.
“COTAP has reached out to the campaign regarding its carbon-neutral pledge, and we have not heard from them yet,” Mr. Whitley said.