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Hillary Clinton's Climate Change Pledge Is Only 'Half the Way There,' Say Environmentalists

Clinton's plan says the number of solar installations will increase by 700 percent if she becomes president, but reveals nothing about the candidate's positions on fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline, or oil drilling in the Arctic.
Photo by Justin Lane/EPA

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Hillary Clinton rolled out the first installment of her climate change plan Sunday, proposing to add half a billion solar panels by the end of her first term, if elected president, and calling for renewables to generate a third of America's electricity by 2027.

The Clinton campaign said the candidate's efforts would equal a 700 percent increase in installed solar capacity and expand generation from other clean sources like wind, hydro, and geothermal. The Democratic Party frontrunner said she would also strengthen and extend tax breaks to renewable energy companies and ensure enough clean energy to power every American home within 10 years.


But she remained silent on flashpoint climate change issues like the Keystone XL pipeline and expanded oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, disappointing some environmentalists.

Bill McKibben, founder of, said that Clinton's plan was "half the way there."

"This is a credible commitment to renewable energy, and a recognition that the economics of electricity are changing fast," McKibben said in a statement. "Now, we need Clinton to show she understands the other half of the climate change equation — and prove she has the courage to stand up against fossil fuel projects like offshore and Arctic drilling, coal leasing in the Powder River basin, and the Keystone XL pipeline."

Shell is currently exploring for oil off the Arctic coast of Alaska. And, while mountaintop removal mining in Appalachian states is in steep decline, coal companies want to greatly expand mining in the Powder River basin of Wyoming, where they lease federal land. Keystone XL may be stalled and economically questionable due to cheap, plentiful oil supplies, but its support in Congress remains high.

"At the end of the day,"added McKibben, "growth in renewables doesn't mean enough if we're simultaneously kicking the decarbonization can down the road with more pipelines and more extraction on public lands."

Stand with Hillary for a healthier climate: — Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton)July 27, 2015

RL Miller, co-founder of Climate Hawks Vote, said that it appears Clinton may be trying to "out-solar" Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, one of her main challengers for the Democratic nomination, who has made attacking climate change one of the pillars of his campaign.


But, like McKibben, he noted the absence of any policy proposals from Clinton on key issues.

"Hillary Clinton's climate plan — or what we've seen of it so far — calls for the solar equivalent of 25 million homes," Miller said in a statement. "At the same time Clinton's climate plan is remarkable for what it doesn't say, yet: no effort to keep fossil fuels in the ground, no price on carbon; no word on Keystone XL, Arctic oil, or other carbon bombs; no word on fracking; no call for adaptation."

Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, who spent nearly $74 million in the midterm elections last year supporting candidates who promised to take on climate change, said last week he will only back candidates whose environmental policies ensure 30 percent of the nation's electricity is produced by renewables in 2030 and 100 percent by mid-century.

At 33 percent by 2027, Clinton's plan appears to pass Steyer's litmus test.

"Clinton laid out an ambitious framework to put our nation on a path to a clean energy economy that will create millions of jobs — and in the coming months we look forward to hearing more details about her proposals to tackle climate change," Steyer said in a statement. "I look forward to other candidates laying out aggressive plans to tackle climate change head-on. It's time for all leaders to acknowledge the problem our country faces and engage in a robust debate about the best way to tackle climate change and build a clean energy economy."


Related: 3,000 Pages of Hillary Clinton's Emails Were Just Released — Many Heavily Redacted

The plan's release came as environmentalists were increasingly questioning Clinton's commitments to addressing climate change and promoting environmental conservation.

Earlier this month, campaign filings revealed many of the lobbyists bundling contributions for the Clinton campaign have at some time or another worked for the fossil fuel industry.

Ankit Desai has secured $82,000 in contributions for the Clinton campaign and is a vice president of government relations at Cheniere Energy, which is pushing for new liquefied natural gas export terminals. Chevron lobbyists Brian Pomper and Scott Parven have helped the oil company retain federal tax breaks and avoid emission regulations. Together they've accumulated nearly $55,000 in contributions for the campaign. And Brian Wolff, executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, which has lobbied against the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) rules limiting power plant emissions, has collected $26,600 in donations.

Lobbyists from ExxonMobil, British Petroleum America, and America's Natural Gas Alliance were represented in the filings, too. Clinton drew criticism from environmental circles for hiring a former TransCanada lobbyist — the company pushing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — as a consultant and for being paid $1.6 million by two Canadian banks tied to Keystone for a series of speeches given before announcing her presidential bid.


The campaign filings draw a stark contrast between Clinton and two of her Democratic challengers, Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. Each took an early-July pledge put forward by 350 Action, the political arm of, and The Nation to reject money from fossil fuel companies. But Clinton, along with the 14 declared Republican candidates at the time, didn't respond to the pledge.

Clinton's choice of John Podesta — the former Obama counselor who helped the president score signature environmental wins — as her campaign chairman was widely hailed by environmentalists. He's promised that climate change will be a "front-and-center" presidential campaign issue if Clinton earns the Democratic nomination.

Related: Al Gore Criticizes Obama for Allowing Oil Drilling in the Arctic

Environmentalists and clean energy boosters remain concerned due to two issues dating back to Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State. Through a division called the Global Shale Gas Initiative, Clinton's State Department encouraged countries around the world to pursue natural gas fracking and, in 2010, Clinton said she was "inclined" to approve Keystone XL — before the department had completed an environmental review of the project.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to a VICE News request for comment on the bundlers' ties to fossil fuel companies or on criticisms that her platform doesn't address Arctic drilling, fracking, or the Keystone XL proposal.


In an open letter earlier this month, McKibben urged Clinton to make climate change a priority if she wins the White House.

"Mother Nature may not have a super PAC, but she has her own ways of focusing attention," McKibben wrote. "If you're the Democratic candidate in the general election, environmentalists may vote for you no matter what, on the general theory of: Republicans don't believe in physics. But that's different from building the kind of enthusiasm that makes elections easier to win, an enthusiasm that would be essential if you actually planned to change things once taking office."

Watch "On the Line" with Environment Editor Robert S. Eshelman here:

Follow Darren Ankrom on Twitter: @darrenankrom