Last year, climate activist and mega-donor Tom Steyer said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would benefit from a Democratic primary challenger if she were to run for president.
"Being forced to refine what you say and think is a good thing," Steyer told MSNBC in September.
That’s why the news that Steyer would host a Clinton fundraiser in California next week raised so many eyebrows, particularly because she has yet to articulate her position on one of the green movement’s top issues — the Keystone XL oil pipeline (E&E Daily, April 29).
Yesterday, Suzanne Henkels, spokeswoman for Steyer’s NextGen Climate, reiterated her boss’s view that KXL is not only bad policy but also bad politics. Surely, she suggested, Clinton knows that.
"While we await a final U.S. government decision," Henkels said, "we are confident that any policymaker or candidate for public office that is committed to fighting climate change will oppose Keystone XL."
Not all environmental groups are equally sanguine. Yesterday afternoon, for example, the Center for Biological Diversity was planning a small rally at a Clinton event in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Asked about Steyer’s plan to host a Clinton fundraiser, CBD Senior Counsel Bill Snape said, "I think it’s his money. But we’d like to see the vegetables from Hillary first, so to speak."
Ben Schreiber, spokesman for Friends of the Earth Action, the political arm of Friends of the Earth, said the group has "concerns about Hillary Clinton as the presidential candidate."
Schreiber is worried not only by Clinton’s having once said she was inclined to support KXL, back when she was secretary of State, but about other signs that she may be open to working with fossil fuel companies, including accepting industry donations to the Clinton Foundation.
"The environmental community works together, and we are generally supportive of each other," Schreiber said in an interview. Groups, working in coordination, became top players and donors during the last elections (see related story).
At the same time, Schreiber said, "The truth of the matter is, it is not a monolithic entity by any means, and there are many different issues that make up the environmental community. Every group needs to go forward with the strategy and issues that are important to their members."
Bill McKibben, founder of the group 350.org, this week took to Twitter to welcome a Senate liberal taking on Clinton in the battle for the Democratic nomination: "Bernie Sanders says he’s running for president to win — which is an extremely cool thought!"
Karthik Ganapathy, the group’s U.S. communications chief, similarly tweeted: "Look out for climate change to become a top-tier issue in the run-up" to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary because of Sanders’ entry.
During last year’s elections, critics questioned environmental leaders when they backed candidates who expressed support for KXL. Greens defended the move by stressing the importance of picking candidates who were supportive of acting on climate change, whether or not they agreed with environmental groups on every issue.
And even though many green-backed politicians failed to win re-election, environmental advocates say their issues were prominent during the races and that climate deniers are out of step with voters.
Heather Taylor-Miesle, head of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, said the group has yet to decide on which presidential candidate to support, but is encouraging hopefuls to embrace environmental causes.
NRDC President Rhea Suh and League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski penned an op-ed in the Huffington Post recently to make the case for the policy and political benefits of running green and to call for candidates to support cutting carbon emissions by 28 percent by 2025.
"We appreciate that some announced candidates have already shown great leadership and we hope that they bring those important conversations to the campaign trail so the American people know exactly where all of the candidates stand," Taylor-Miesle wrote in an email.
NextGen Climate spokeswoman Henkels said, "When Secretary Clinton addressed the National Clean Energy Summit and stated that climate change is ‘the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world,’ she made clear the primary importance of addressing this critical issue."
She added, "Any serious candidate needs a serious plan to promote clean energy jobs and curb carbon pollution, and we look forward to specific policy proposals from all of the 2016 candidates."
But Friends of the Earth Action’s Schreiber warned against supporting candidates who don’t back his group’s goals.
"We think of it as a failed strategy to support candidates who are not champions on our issues," he said, because if they’re not committed during the campaign, they may be less so during their time in office.