Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, at long last, finally shared her views on the Keystone XL pipeline. The Democratic front-runner, it turns out, is against its construction.
“I think it is imperative that we look at the Keystone pipeline as what I believe it is—a distraction from the important work we have to do to combat climate change,” Clinton said during the Q-and-A portion of an Iowa campaign rally. She later added: “I oppose it because I don’t think it’s in the best interest of what we need to do to combat climate change.”
Clinton had long refused to weigh in on the issue before Tuesday, repeatedly saying that it would be inappropriate for her to give an opinion one way or the other since the review process—a portion of which she oversaw as secretary of state—was still ongoing. (Remember: President Obama vetoed a Republican attempt to fast-track construction earlier this year, but he was careful to make his opposition about the process of Congress approving the pipeline, not to the pipeline itself. The proposal is currently wrapped in bureaucratic red tape but it is technically alive.)
Hillary’s awkward dodge had infuriated environmentalists who have turned Keystone into a climate litmus test. Activists had good reason to doubt where Clinton stood, too. Back in 2010, while she was still at the State Department, Hillary suggested that she was leaning towards signing off on the permit TransCanada needed to build the pipeline. “We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada,” she said then. Two years later, Bill Clinton gave greenies another case of crude-oil heartburn when he suggested it was time to “embrace” the project.
Between that and the lengthy silence that followed, Hillary’s belated opposition comes with the distinct whiff of political opportunism—all the more so because it came on a day when Pope Francis touched down in Washington, D.C, where he's expected to make life quite uncomfortable for those politicians who haven't made combating global warming a priority. Clinton’s decision will earn her rare cheers from the climate crowd—many of whom have been less than impressed with her overall energy positions to date—while also moving her one leftward step closer to progressive challenger Bernie Sanders. Her opposition could even conceivably help her if Joe Biden does decide to jump in the race. While Biden’s opposition to the project isn’t exactly a secret, as vice president he’d have a much more difficult time bashing it on the stump.
For Team Green, though, whatever political calculations that went into the decision will matter much less than the final result. Convincing Obama to kill the project once and for all remains a top goal for climate activists— but getting Clinton to finally come out against it will serve as pretty nice consolation prize for now.