Hillary Clinton can’t – or won’t – distance herself from anti-fossil fuel movement “Keep it in the ground”
The US Chamber of Commerce has waded into the election campaign with the release of a report that accuses Hillary Clinton of supporting the “Keep it in the ground” movement, in the process exposing a key political weakness of her campaign.
According to the Chamber, when asked if she would ban fossil fuel extraction on federal lands, Clinton said, “That’s a done deal.” That comment stands in stark contrast to her more moderate and pragmatic stands on energy issues as a US senator and Secretary of State.
Clinton is trying, not very successfully thus far, to emulate the Obama Two Step on American oil and gas production. The President’s strategy goes something like this:
Barack Obama while announcing his rejection of Keystone XL pipeline application: “We’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”
Obama’s comment was immediately seized upon by eco-activists and became the inspiration for “Keep it in the ground.” But the President’s cabinet members and advisors are dancing to a different tune.
Sally Jewel, Obama’s interior secretary: “It’s going to take a very long time before we can wean ourselves from fossil fuels, so I think that to keep it in the ground is naive, to say we could shift to 100 percent renewables is naïve.”
Obama’s chief science advisor John Holdren: “The notion that we’re going to keep it all in the ground is unrealistic… We are still a very heavily fossil fuel dependent world…You don’t overturn a $25 trillion investment overnight.”
The political strategy has worked well for Obama. Eco-activists are annoyed that he isn’t moving faster on climate change mitigation, but not so annoyed that they aggressively oppose him. “President Barack Obama has taken some important steps to address this issue. Unfortunately they’re not enough to stave off the worst impacts of climate change,” says the Center for Biological Diversity, a leader in the “Keep it in the ground” movement, in a statement that reflects the general sentiment of environmentalists.
Meanwhile, Clinton has been flat out clumsy on the political dance floor.
She allowed the surprisingly strong Bernie Sanders campaign to drag her much further leftward than her historic energy positions suggest she would be comfortable doing. For instance, her comments about banning fracking in most instances have already come back to haunt her. And while Clinton supporters fought off Sanders progressives’ attempts to put aggressive anti-fossil fuels resolutions on the Democratic convention agenda, that fight alienated many of the Vermont senator’s supporters (think Prof. Cornell West), which makes tacking back to the center just that much more difficult.
Part of Clinton’s problem is that she is a candidate, not the president. During a campaign she is expected to articulate party policy and her intentions should she win office.
But the Obama Two Step seems just too difficult for her to master.
And oil and gas allies like the Chamber of Commerce aren’t making it easier for her.
As I explained in this column, Prof. Lianne Lefsrud’s work shows that the energy debate has shifted from cognitive legitimacy (facts, data, logic, science) to normative legitimacy (emotion, morality, “should we do this?”).
Big Green has exploited this shift brilliantly by scaring voters with visions of apocalyptic climate change, while appealing to them with rosy visions of the Clean Energy Utopia. And those anti-fossil fuels progressive voters and campaign donors (think billionaire Tom Steyer or Hollywood celebrity Mark Ruffalo) are keeping up intense political pressure.
Meanwhile, the Chamber et. al. release boring economic studies.
You can hear the collective yawn all across America.
So, sure, it’s good to know that the House “Keep it in the Ground Act,” bill with its 20-plus co-sponsors would cost the US $11.3 billion in annual royalties lost, 380,000 jobs, and $70 billion in annual GDP, and that 25 per cent of America’s oil, natural gas and coal production would be halted, as the Chamber claims in its study.
Now figure out how to make voters care. Hillary Clinton clearly can’t get her feet untangled long enough to help.