Gaius Publius: Is Clinton Still a Carbon Candidate? The Data to Date

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. Originally published at at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.



Hillary Clinton’s carbon-connected bundler network (source). Click to enlarge; click here to open the resizable interactive version.

I’ve been trying to get a handle on Hillary Clinton’s climate and carbon policies. I know, for example, that in 2013 she looked for all the world like a “carbon candidate” based on these remarks in upstate New York:

In Oneida County, Hillary Clinton touts U.S. oil-and-gas production

… Late into the lecture portion of Clinton’s Oneida County appearance, she referenced a report that the U.S. in on track to surpass Russia in domestic oil-and-gas production.

That’s good news, Clinton said.

“What that means for viable manufacturing and industrialization in this country is enormous,” she said to the crowd of 5,800 in Hamilton’s athletic field house.

Natural-gas extraction has been a hotly debated issue in New York as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration weighs whether to open its portion of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The increase in domestic U.S. production has been tied directly to the rise of large-scale fracking, which has allowed drillers to target shale formations that were once thought unreachable.

So it’s fair enough to say she is, or was, pro-fracking and pro-natural gas (methane, a greenhouse gas, that when burned, becomes CO2, another greenhouse gas). Is she still pro-fracking and pro-methane?

In an attempt to determine Hillary Clinton’s climate policy to date, I looked at four sources — her bundler network (see the graphic above), her statements from the first two Democratic debate, and the proposals on her web page. The close of this piece contains a comment on Clinton and the disastrous 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, which Clinton is now painting as a victory for herself and Obama.

Oil & Gas Lobbyists Bundle for Clinton
First, there are plenty of connections to the oil and gas industry (the carbon extraction industry) in the Clinton bundler network. From a piece at LittleSis published in July 2015:

Oil & Gas Lobbyists Bundle for Clinton

In a campaign finance filing yesterday, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton disclosed the registered lobbyists that have “bundled” donations from people in their personal networks for her campaign. $2.1 million of the money Clinton has raised so far was bundled by registered lobbyists.

Clinton, an ally of the oil and gas industry during her tenure as Secretary of State, brought in $811,828 from lobbyists that work for oil and gas companies. Another $321,950 came from lobbyists who don’t advocate for industry clients themselves, but who work for firms that lobby for industry clients.

Clinton’s biggest bundler, Jackson Dunn, raised $231,554 for the candidate. Dunn, a lobbyist for Dow Chemical and for Noble Energy, is a senior managing partner for the firm FTI Consulting, which has long managed the Independent Petroleum Association of America’s “Energy in Depth” public relations campaign. “Energy in Depth” employs a variety of tactics, including attacking environmental activists and distributing incorrect and misleading research to local policymakers in order to advance the petroleum industry’s agenda.

Keep in mind, this was July, so the numbers have likely grown larger. Also, since bundler information is much less public than announced positions, it’s easier to hide support here than in campaign declarations. If I had to guess her level of support for emissions based on just these two data points, I’d say, “Yes, she’s still a pro-carbon candidate,” since frankly, it matters where she (or any candidate) gets her money. But let’s look at announced positions as well. Perhaps we’ll be happily surprised.

Debate Statements on Climate Change

In the two Democratic debates, climate change was discussed, much more so in the first than the second. From the first debate:

CLINTON: [From the opening statement] … I’ve put forward specific plans about how we’re going to create more good-paying jobs: by investing in infrastructure and clean energy, by making it possible once again to invest in science and research, and taking the opportunity posed by climate change to grow our economy….

[From the back-and-forth] … You know, we know that if you are learning, you’re gonna change your position. I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone. But I have been on the forefront of dealing with climate change, starting in 2009, when President Obama and I crashed (ph) a meeting with the Chinese and got them to sign up to the first international agreement to combat climate change that they’d ever joined. …

When we met in Copenhagen in 2009 and, literally, President Obama and I were hunting for the Chinese, going throughout this huge convention center, because we knew we had to get them to agree to something. Because there will be no effective efforts against climate change unless China and India join with the rest of the world. They told us they’d left for the airport; we found out they were having a secret meeting. We marched up, we broke in, we said, “We’ve been looking all over for you. Let’s sit down and talk about what we need to do.” And we did come up with the first international agreement that China has signed. Thanks to President Obama’s leadership, it’s now gone much further. …

And I do think that the bilateral agreement that President Obama made with the Chinese was significant. Now, it needs to go further, and there will be an international meeting at the end of this year, and we must get verifiable commitments to fight climate change from every country gathered there.

Nothing about bringing emissions to zero on any time frame; some mention of her “clean energy plan” (which echoes, deliberately or not, Obama’s pro-methane “Clean Power Plan”); a reference to her laudable rejection of the Keystone pipeline; and many references to her attempts to engage the Chinese and Indians at the (horribly failed) Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 (more on that below).

Now from the second debate, this lone statement (as near as I can find):

But the differences among us pale compared to what’s happening on the Republican side. And if you listen to what they say — and I had a chance over those 11 hours to watch and listen, as well as what I see in their debates — they are putting forth alarming plans.

I mean, all of us support funding Planned Parenthood. All of us believe climate change is real. All of us want equal pay for equal work.

Believing “climate change is real” is laudable, but tells us nothing about what she’d actually do to put an end to it. So let’s turn to her campaign Issue web page on climate change. From the introduction, this hints at, yes, more drilling:

Making America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century

“You don’t have to be a scientist to take on this urgent challenge that threatens us all. You just have to be willing to act.”

Climate change is an urgent challenge that threatens all of us. The United States is already taking steps to invest in our clean energy future, but we need to do more. We need to take bold action to combat climate change, create jobs, protect the health of American families and communities, and make the United States the world’s clean energy superpower.

In the coming months, Hillary will lay out a comprehensive energy and climate agenda to help America transition to a clean energy economy and meet the global climate crisis.

The page lists two goals, which have been announced for a while:

  • Goal: Have more than half a billion solar panels installed across the country by the end of Hillary’s first term.
  • Goal: Generate enough renewable energy to power every home in America within 10 years of Hillary taking office.

About these she says:

Through these goals, we will increase the amount of installed solar capacity by 700% by 2020, expand renewable energy to at least a third of all electricity generation, prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year, and put our country on a path to achieve deep emission reductions by 2050.

The close includes this:

These goals are a critical next step toward making America a clean energy superpower and combating climate change. That is why Hillary will make it a top priority to fight efforts to roll back crucial tools in our national strategy to reduce carbon pollution, increase deployment of renewable energy, and build a clean energy future. …

“We’re on the cusp of a new era. We can have more choice in the energy we consume and produce. We can create a more open, efficient, and resilient grid that connects us, empowers us, improves our health, and benefits us all.”

The response from climate scientists and activist has not been favorable. This is James Hansen’s reaction:

“It’s just plain silly,” said James Hansen, a climate change researcher who headed Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies for over 30 years. “No, you cannot solve the problem without a fundamental change, and that means you have to make the price of fossil fuels honest. Subsidizing solar panels is not going to solve the problem.”

Lead climate activist Bill McKibben is similarly displeased (same link; also here).

The fact sheet (pdf) available on that page includes more, but I can’t find anything that acknowledges the need to move to zero carbon emissions, and nothing that excludes Obama’s “all of the above” climate plan. She seems to want to rebalance the mix toward renewables, but not force the elimination of carbon emissions. (Which is where I start thinking of those pro-carbon bundlers from the beginning of this piece. Through acquisition, Exxon, by the way, is a major owner of natural gas — methane — fields.)

Two bits from the fact sheet. First, from her list of more specific goals (my emphasis):

1) Energy and Climate Security: Reduce the amount of oil consumed in the United States and around the world, guard against energy supply disruptions, and make our communities, our infrastructure, and our financial markets more resilient to climate‐related risks. …

3) Safe and Responsible Production: Ensure that fossil fuel production taking place today is safe and responsible, that taxpayers get a fair deal for development on public lands, and that areas that are too sensitive for energy production are taken off the table.

Each of these points assumes continued carbon emissions, and note the promise in the first to reduce oil consumption, not fossil fuel consumption. In a graphic from the fact sheet, she shows her goals for renewables — she would take them from 16% of total power generation (what she says is the “current policy”) to 33% by 2027.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency:

  • Hydropower and other renewables = 13% of electric generation
  • Nuclear = 19%
  • Coal = 39%
  • Natural gas (burnable methane) = 27%
  • Oil = 1%

You could get to 33% renewable energy production by taking coal to zero or near-zero and dividing the difference between renewables and methane. Because the total energy needs are expected to rise, this reduction in emissions would be negligible relative to what’s needed. Remember, climate scientist Michael Mann has conservatively estimated that we’ll reach +2°C warming by 2036, at which point we’ll have to stop cold turkey and live with what’s in the pipeline (likely, in my estimation, another half to one degree):

If the world keeps burning fossil fuels at the current rate, it will cross a threshold into environmental ruin by 2036.

Note that, from the article, Mann assumes we continue to burn coal, whose airborne particles act as a temporary climate coolant. If we eliminate coal particles as an offset to global warming, we have to, literally, stop now.

2036 is less than 10 years after Clinton’s plan is due to move U.S. renewables from 16% to 33%. Again, not nearly aggressive enough, and I still see nothing that says, “No increase in total emissions.” Note that point one from the fact sheet talks about reducing the amount of “oil consumed,” not the amount of carbon emitted. Which leads me back, unfortunately, to those bundlers and what they know that we don’t.

Is Clinton Still a Carbon Candidate?

I think the answer to the above question, in all fairness, has to be “Yes” until she proves otherwise. I’m open to being shown otherwise — as are we all who care about our children’s and grandchildren’s future. But the weight of evidence so far is this — under a President Clinton, no halt to carbon emissions, and no commitment to one, will be forthcoming. Does that mean she doesn’t care about climate change. No, but it does mean she won’t act effectively to prevent it.

About that Copenhagen Climate Conference — In the Climate World It’s Considered a Monumental Failure

Read that section again about Copenhagen from Clinton’s first debate remarks:

When we met in Copenhagen in 2009 and, literally, President Obama and I were hunting for the Chinese, going throughout this huge convention center, because we knew we had to get them to agree to something. … They told us they’d left for the airport; we found out they were having a secret meeting. We marched up, we broke in, we said, “We’ve been looking all over for you. Let’s sit down and talk about what we need to do.” …

Here’s how that’s been described elsewhere:

About midway through the debate, Clinton staked her climate record on what’s widely perceived to have been one of the biggest diplomatic failures in recent history—the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. After years of anticipation, the meeting of world leaders ended in disarray, with Obama and his aides famously wandering around the convention center, looking for the leaders of China, India, Brazil, and other key nations. The toothless deal struck at the last minute was called a “grudging accord” by the New York Times the next day. Yes, Obama—and Clinton, then his secretary of state—were instrumental to that deal, but it’s hardly something Hillary should be proud of. …

In reality, the sour legacy of Copenhagen has haunted international climate negotiations ever since. It’s now widely believed that the U.S. never wanted a legally binding climate deal in Copenhagen at all—even though the Democrats controlled the Congress at the time and may have been able to successfully ratify the treaty—opting instead for a mostly empty pledge of billions of dollars in aid to developing nations. Among environmentalists, Clinton has retained only a mediocre reputation on climate change as a result.

The rest of the article details the reaction of climate activists to her mention Copenhagen as a victory — phrases like “disconnected from reality” appear. Then there are the stories of NSA spying at the Copenhagen conference, with some commenters suggesting sabotage. The U.S. also worked to undermine efforts by the developing nations, like India and China, to develop an independent plan — again using what Snowden identified as “signals intelligence” — in a way that painted the Chinese especially as climate villains. This so angered the Chinese that this famously occurred:

“What I saw was profoundly shocking. The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country’s foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal … “

Match that statement to Clinton’s. Again (Clinton speaking):

When we met in Copenhagen in 2009 and, literally, President Obama and I were hunting for the Chinese, going throughout this huge convention center, because we knew we had to get them to agree to something. … They told us they’d left for the airport; we found out they were having a secret meeting. We marched up, we broke in, we said, “We’ve been looking all over for you. Let’s sit down and talk about what we need to do.” …

One of these things is not like the other. The reason Clinton and Obama had to chase down the Chinese at the convention center is because the Chinese were furious with the Americans and didn’t want to speak to them. Do read the “NSA did it” analysis. None of this is proven, but the dots are all there, millimeters apart, begging to be connected.

Copenhagen was anything but a success. The opposite, in fact.

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  1. Plutoniumkun

    When you parse her statements closely, its hard to distinguish what she says from what the oil and gas industry say in ‘responsible’ mode – bearing in mind that many oil companies have significant investments in solar and wind. So long as there are no big taxes on fossil fuels, they are quite happy with big investments in renewables, because they can see themselves cashing in on it. You cannot be serious about climate change without policies that are directly aimed at keeping fossil fuels in the ground – either by way of taxes, or by way of direct regulation. Advocating for billions for solar panels and wind turbines alone is not a serious climate change policy, its just pork barrel.

    1. susan the other

      For the next few decades we will need oil to fuel our seachange from fossil fuels to renewables. What besides “porkbarrel” can fund this? Probably the one saving grace of capitalism is that it indulges porkbarrel politix even if it is for a good cause. Under our current “capitalist” accounting. During these next decades there will be as much corruption as there ever has been – great vast amounts of money given, stolen, counterfeited and etc. But that pales in comparison to doing nothing. Doing nothing, however, is an agency of dark political matter. Hillary can be counted on to enrich her corporatist cronies and let the rest of us die off from neglect. Neglect of the bedrock goal of all of this – a social goal of equity and a ecological goal of renewal. Hillary’s goal is profits for the biggest corporations. Her vision is very short-sighted.

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