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Tina Casey headshot

Hillary Clinton Drops One Shoe On Keystone XL, White House Drops Another


Earlier this week, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton officially, finally, and definitively stated her opposition to the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. The news comes amid a huge week for renewable energy in the U.S., coinciding with Climate Week 2015 in New York City and a visit from climate activist and global leader of the Catholic faith, Pope Francis, who will address the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 25.

The Clinton statement also comes at a particularly bad time for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed project has been limping to the finish line of a long approval process marked by an epic fail in terms of stakeholder engagement, and its chances of receiving the necessary White House approval have been fading by the minute.

Evolving on the Keystone XL pipeline

Clinton's position on the Keystone XL pipeline has certainly evolved since her tenure as Secretary of State. As a project crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada, Keystone requires State Department approval, and back in 2010, then-Secretary Clinton provided an unscripted rationale for approving the project.

As reported in Mother Jones, her comments provoked an outcry from environmental groups, though in the full transcript Clinton clearly articulated a position that dependency on "dirty oil," regardless of the source, is a fact of life in the U.S. "until we get our act together" for renewable energy.

In fact, Clinton immediately followed up that line by suggesting that projects like Keystone would continue to be necessary precisely because of the U.S. Senate's failure to pass legislation in support of clean energy -- legislation that she and President Barack Obama strongly favored.

Be that as it may, the pushback was so strong that Clinton never made another comment about the project as Secretary of State. Even as a presidential candidate, she refrained from taking a position despite repeated requests over the summer.

The breakthrough finally came at a campaign stop in Iowa earlier this week. As reported by NBC News, Clinton had this to say about Keystone XL:

"I think it is imperative that we look at the Keystone XL pipeline as what I believe it is: A distraction from the important work we have to do to combat climate change, and, unfortunately from my perspective, one that interferes with our ability to move forward and deal with other issues.

"Therefore, I oppose it. I oppose it because I don't think it's in the best interest of what we need to do to combat climate change."

Now, the Obama administration dropped the other shoe. Yesterday, Reuters reported that White House spox Josh Earnest was asked to respond to Clinton's Keystone statement, and he stated back that "there was nothing 'widely reported' about Clinton’s comments that he would 'strenuously disagree with.'"

According to Reuters, Earnest also reminded the press that the president was "skeptical" of claims by Keystone supporters that the project would have a significant impact on job creation and economic growth.

Cost of solar falling down

The Senate still hasn't gotten its act together in support of national clean energy legislation, but since 2010 the Obama administration has been pulling the levers of its executive authority to steer federal agencies in the direction that Clinton pointed to.

According to the Energy Department, the cost of solar is already competitive with conventional sources in 14 states, and the latest report from the U.S. Energy Information Agency paints a picture of spectacular growth in solar generation across all 50 states.

Last week, the Energy Department announced a new $102 million package of funding for solar projects focused on cost-cutting, including next-generation concentrating solar power technology aimed at the utility market.

This week, the Energy Department also doubled down on the small-scale, distributed solar market with the launch of its new Race to 7-Day Solar challenge. The friendly competition between five teams, including heavy-hitters SolarCity and Sunrun, is aimed at streamlining an often cumbersome permitting process for rooftop solar installations, enabling property owners to get the whole thing done in a week, or even less.

Cost of wind energy falling down

This has also been a big year for wind energy. In January, for example, the Interior Department okayed a building permit for a massive new 515-mile wind energy transmission line for Arizona and New Mexico. And over the summer, Rhode Island celebrated the first "steel in the water" for what will become the first offshore wind farm in the U.S.

Even without offshore assets, according to an Energy Department report, last year the U.S. was leading the globe in wind energy production. The report further notes that utility-scale wind is already competitive with conventional fuels in many markets across the country, and another Energy Department report demonstrates growth in the small-scale, distributed wind energy sector.

Getting back to the Keystone pipeline: Over the summer, rumors were flying around the Canadian press that President Obama would put the kibosh on the project as early as this past Labor Day, and with campaign frontrunner Clinton firmly in the "no" camp, it looks like the White House could be reserving its own final statement for the right time.

Image (screenshot): via Clinton campaign issues, climate.

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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