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Why Voters Should Be Concerned About Clinton’s Environmental Promises

A fact check of Clinton’s speeches exposes contradictions between what she says and how she votes.

by Sarah Emerson
Aug 16 2016, 8:39pm

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Last week, Hillary Clinton issued her plan for economic reform in a speech aimed at swinging working class voters and discrediting Donald Trump's bombastic promises to lead an "energy revolution."

Speaking at Warren, Michigan's Futuramic Tool & Engineering factory, Clinton painted a different picture of America's economic engine—instead of evoking a decaying coal industry, the Democratic presidential hopeful propped her platform on the enduring growth of engineering and technology.

"Some country is going to be the clean energy superpower of the 21st century and create millions of jobs and businesses. It's probably going to be either China, Germany, or America. I want it to be us! We invent the technology, we should make it and use it and export it, which will help to grow our economy."

Clinton's vows to bolster clean energy can be taken as a panacea to Trump's fossil fuel fanaticism, but how many of her environmental affirmations are verified by her own political record? When it comes to issues like climate change and renewable energy, Clinton has trumpeted her dedication to support and enact new legislation. But other parts of her legacy, such as her relationship to fracking and the oil lobby, are decidedly less partisan.

Once voted to support expanded offshore drilling

For years, environmentalists have expressed concern with Clinton's stance on offshore drilling. As terrestrial oil reserves dry up, fossil fuel corporations are pressuring lawmakers to open up fragile ocean ecosystems to drilling. In the public arena, Clinton has been relatively vocal about her opposition toward new drilling leases. She called herself "very skeptical" of President Obama's 2015 proposal for drilling expansion off the Atlantic coast. And earlier this year, her campaign confirmed that she would oppose offshore drilling in Alaska's Arctic Ocean.

A controlled fire in the Gulf of Mexico, 2010. Image: US Department of Defense

But Clinton's voting record hasn't always matched up to her assurances. In 2001, Clinton voted to support a new oil and gas leasing program off the Gulf of Mexico, called Lease Sale 181. And in 2006, the then junior senator voted for the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which eliminated sections of the moratorium on offshore drilling for Florida's Gulf of Mexico coastline. The bill eventually led to the opening of up 8 million acres off Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana for oil and gas drilling. Four years later, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill flooded the gulf with 3.1 million barrels of crude—a catastrophe from which local ecosystems have yet to completely recover.

While it's tenuous to say that Clinton's vote led directly to the blowout, as Washington Post fact-checkers point out, her willingness to back a fossil fuel-inclusive energy agenda has been concerning to environmentalists.

Endorsed the need for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking"

As recently as 2014, Clinton was an ardent proponent of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as "the cleanest fossil fuel available for power generation today." Earlier, in 2012, Clinton led a lobbying effort at the Department of State to promote fracking technology in developing countries. Emails obtained by The Intercept revealed that Clinton's envoy worked closely with oil and gas companies, and pressured other agencies "to commit federal government resources including technical assistance for locating shale reserves."

Oil and gas sites, Jonah Field, Wyoming. Image: EcoFlight/Bruce Gordon

At several presidential primary debates this year, Clinton also appeared to waver on her view of fracking's role in America's energy future. At times, she pledged to regulate fracking into oblivion. Yet, Clinton also referred to the drilling practice as a necessary bridge leading away from our dependence on coal.

The main reason why this disturbs environmentalists relates to the "all of the above" energy agenda proposed by the Obama administration in 2014. That strategy embraced all forms of energy, from oil to nuclear, and was opposed by conservation groups for failing to prioritize renewable power sources. In a recent statement, the Democratic National Committee called for running the nation "entirely on clean energy by midcentury," which makes Clinton's party position increasingly unclear.

Remained silent on the Keystone XL Pipeline

On perhaps the most visible green voter issue, the Keystone XL Pipeline, Clinton has been mostly silent. For years, Clinton refused to comment on whether she supported the proposed 1,179-mile oil sands conduit leading from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. In September of last year, however, the presidential candidate finally opposed the pipeline, calling it "a distraction from important work we have to do on climate change."

While this may have been momentous to some, many accused Clinton of flip-flopping on the issue—only condemning the pipeline when it became politically advantageous to her. Her Democratic opponent, Bernie Sanders, had opposed the pipeline from the start of his campaign, and even Clinton's own adviser, John Podesta, was a vocal critic of the project. Clinton has since released a proposition for modernizing energy infrastructure throughout the US, and did not mention the Keystone XL Pipeline in her plan.

Accepted campaign contributions from oil and gas lobbyists

Clinton's stance on climate change is arguably her strongest suit, in that unlike her competitor, she hasn't denounced it as a "Chinese hoax." From a bird's eye level, Clinton believes in man-made global warming, supports the validity of climate science, and thinks carbon emissions need to be curbed.

However, in more private arenas, her relationship with the oil and gas lobby remains convoluted. This year, Greenpeace published a report on Clinton's ties to fossil fuel interests, claiming that she'd received more than $6.9 million in funding from lobbyists and employees. A fact-check by the Center for Responsive Politics estimated this number was actually somewhere around $1.4 million, according to Clinton's FEC filings. Clients of the 11 lobbyists responsible for that money include oil companies like Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Marathon Oil.

The Clinton campaign has also hosted lavish fundraising events that connect her to fracking investors like Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., according to The Intercept. She's also raised money—up to $650,000 by some accounts—with the help of Charif Souki, a natural gas titan who hosted a fundraiser for Clinton earlier this year.

Green groups have remained mostly silent on Clinton's fossil fuel ties, though American environmentalist and co-founder of, Bill McKibben, once wrote of the issue: "It's not illegal, any of it, and it's not quite the same as the way the Koch brothers simply purchased the GOP, but it's not far enough away, either. Influence is…influence."

With one month to go until Clinton and Trump face-off in New York, it's not hard to see where each falls on the spectrum of environmental issues, even if the devil lies in the details. But if one thing's for sure, it's that the future of our climate won't be determined on the debate stage.