Clinton not ready to answer Hard Questions™ on Keystone Pipeline

Hillary “Hard Questions” Clinton recently released a decidedly non-comprehensive plan to tackle climate change, with promises of more proposals and positions to be unveiled as the campaign season progresses. However, one position we apparently can’t expect candidate Clinton to ever take is where she stands on the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the transcontinental oil pipeline that would transport tar sands oil from Canada through the United States.

Responding to a question at a town hall earlier today, Clinton punted on where she stood on the issue, initially saying only that she didn’t want to second guess President Obama or interfere with the administration’s work on the pipeline proposal. Pressed for a followup, Clinton said, “If it’s undecided when I become president, I will answer your question.”

Later, she told reporters that “I’m sorry if people want me to. I have been very clear: I will not express an opinion until they have made a decision, and then I will do so.”

Good to know.

The town hall was Clinton’s first since climate advocates disrupted an event two weeks ago, frustrated over Clinton’s refusal to commit to banning fossil fuel extraction on federal lands. Taken together with her refusal to take a position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it appears as though Hillary Clinton’s stance on all climate related issues is that the environment is good, but answering Hard Questions™ about the environment is bad. And unless one of her primary opponents gains some serious ground on her, she doesn’t have any electoral imperative to say anything else.

Hillary Clinton, via Roger H. Goun / Flickr

Hillary Clinton, via Roger H. Goun / Flickr

Clinton, who as Secretary of State helped start the reviewing process for the pipeline, has been notably cagey on many of the hard questions that she herself has insisted require answers — after the campaign is over, of course. As The New Republic‘s Rebecca Leber pointed out yesterday, Clinton’s climate agenda includes an ambitious investment in renewable energy seemingly tailor-made to satisfy the criteria of billionaire Tom Steyer’s goal of getting America to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030…and no further. She has also called for what her campaign calls “safe and responsible” fossil fuel production, which climate advocates (rightly) counter is oxymoronic on its face.

All of this suggests that Clinton is ready to work around the margins to establish a climate record that she can point to, but is not willing to lay out an agenda that would lead to adaptation away from our reliance on fossil fuels — a reliance that has likely already guaranteed the loss of much of our coastline and the cities that sit on it.

It further suggests that her pattern of asking and outlining hard questions, only to refuse to answer them, wouldn’t end with a Clinton victory. It would extend into her presidency.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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