Press­ing Clin­ton on cli­mate change

▶ Cli­mate ac­tivists get her to com­mit on video to a drilling ban ▶ “This is our mo­ment, when we are much stronger” than oil lob­by­ists

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CONTENTS - −Jen­nifer A. Dlouhy

Hil­lary Clin­ton has made pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment a part of her plat­form since she an­nounced her can­di­dacy last June, when she talked about mak­ing the U.S. a leader in re­new­able en­ergy. Her cam­paign chair, John Podesta, was the cen­tral ar­chi­tect of Pres­i­dent Obama’s strat­egy on cli­mate change. Yet Clin­ton’s will­ing­ness to ac­cept cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from donors with oil-in­dus­try ties, com­bined with her long de­lay an­nounc­ing a pub­lic po­si­tion on the Keystone XL pipe­line, has nur­tured doubts about her can­di­dacy among en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists.

Cli­mate ac­tivists have been trail­ing Clin­ton since be­fore she for­mally en­tered the race, post­ing videos to YouTube and Twit­ter of her say­ing she’ll com­mit to spe­cific poli­cies. The tac­tic ap­pears to be pay­ing off: On Feb. 4, Grif­fin Sin­clair-Win­gate, a Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire ju­nior, pushed up to the stage af­ter a

Demo­cratic de­bate be­tween Clin­ton and Bernie San­ders to ques­tion the for­mer sec­re­tary of state. “Would you ban the ex­trac­tion of oil, gas, and coal on pub­lic lands?” the 21-year-old asked. “Yeah,” Clin­ton re­sponded. “That’s a done deal.”

The four-word state­ment, cap­tured on video, was a vic­tory for Sin­clair-Win­gate, a vol­un­teer for 350 Ac­tion, a non­profit ad­vo­cacy group backed by Cal­i­for­nia hedge fund bil­lion­aire Tom Steyer and oth­ers who pro­mote re­new­able en­ergy. Since July, the group has posted video of Clin­ton declar­ing her op­po­si­tion to Kin­der Mor­gan’s pro­posed North­east En­ergy Di­rect pipe­line, which would carry nat­u­ral gas from Penn­syl­va­nia to Mas­sachusetts. In an­other, she says there should be in­ves­ti­ga­tions into al­le­ga­tions that

ExxonMo­bil sup­pressed decades-old cli­mate change re­search. Exxon has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

Within 24 hours of her ex­change with Sin­clair-Win­gate, Clin­ton dou­bled down, telling an­other 350 Ac­tion ac­tivist on cam­era that she wants to “im­pose a mora­to­rium” on oil, coal, and gas leases on pub­lic lands. “This is our mo­ment, when we are much stronger than the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try,” says Ja­son Kowal­ski, a spokesman for 350 Ac­tion, which has co­or­di­nated much of the video cam­paign. Once th­ese dis­cus­sions go be­hind closed doors, Kowal­ski says, “the lawyers and the lob­by­ists of the oil in­dus­try will out­power us.”

Clin­ton spokesman Jesse Fer­gu­son says Clin­ton “be­lieves we should be on a long-term path to a fu­ture where there is no ex­trac­tion of fos­sil fu­els on pub­lic lands.” Kowal­ski and oth­ers say Clin­ton’s will­ing­ness to com­mit to spe­cific po­si­tions has co­in­cided with her ri­val’s rise in the polls. San­ders won the New Hamp­shire pri­mary on Feb. 9 and came within five points of Clin­ton in the Feb. 20 Ne­vada cau­cus. “He’s made Hil­lary have to pay more at­ten­tion to [cli­mate change] than she prob­a­bly would have if she were un­op­posed or just pre­par­ing for a fall cam­paign for the whole U.S.,” says Robert Brulle, a Drexel Univer­sity so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor who stud­ies en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ments.

A politi­cian who reg­u­larly ad­dresses en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy while cam­paign­ing is much more likely to claim a man­date to ad­dress cli­mate change once in of­fice, says David Gold­ston, di­rec­tor of govern­ment affairs for the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil Ac­tion Fund, the political arm of the non­profit con­ser­va­tion group. “From our point of view, the more the can­di­dates are talk­ing about all aspects of this is­sue, the bet­ter,” he says. “That ac­tu­ally does tend to shape pol­icy once they’re in of­fice, if they win.”

350 Ac­tion says it plans to con­tinue press­ing Clin­ton to re­ject do­na­tions from fos­sil fuel in­ter­ests and en­dorse bans on frack­ing. The group is the political arm of, a non­profit founded by au­thor and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Bill McKibben. It draws fund­ing from an ar­ray of cor­po­ra­tions and phil­an­thropic or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing Steyer’s per­sonal foun­da­tion, which spent about $60 mil­lion in 2014 back­ing can­di­dates who took strong stands on cli­mate change. Other donors in­clude the Rock­e­feller Brothers Fund, the Streisand Foun­da­tion, Patag­o­nia, and the Clif Bar Fam­ily Foun­da­tion.

To teach ac­tivists the art and sci­ence of bird-dog­ging a can­di­date, 350 Ac­tion con­ducts boot camps in­struct­ing them how to go af­ter a tar­get, hone their ques­tions, and make sure cam­eras are trained on a politi­cian at the right time. Sin­clair-Win­gate went through a day­long train­ing with 350 and has fine-tuned his tac­tics on the trail. Af­ter catch­ing Clin­ton at sev­eral events, he de­cided to start stick­ing his hand out for a shake along­side ev­ery­one else on the rope line, to make it harder for her to avoid him. “I feel a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to be do­ing this,” Sin­clair-Win­gate says. “I’m not the one be­ing af­fected most by cli­mate change, and the peo­ple who are don’t have the same ac­cess and abil­ity to change it that I do.”

The bot­tom line Cli­mate ac­tivists backed by hedge fund in­vestor Tom Steyer have recorded Clin­ton say­ing she’d ban drilling for oil on pub­lic lands.

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