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Clinton voices opposition to the Keystone pipeline

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton put energy issues front and centre on the campaign trail in September

“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 told supporters at a campaign stop in Iowa on 22 September. “Therefore, I oppose it.”

Candidate Clinton’s opposition to the pipeline, which would carry 0.83m barrels/day (b/d) of crude from Canada’s oil sands to the US, surprised many as it stood in contrast to secretary of state Clinton’s cautious support for the project in 2010. “We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada,” she said at the time. That position had led many to assume Clinton would approve Keystone XL if elected president.

But Clinton said things had changed in the intervening years. “Since the application was filed, the effects of climate change have grown more acute”, she said. “We should be focused on what it will take to make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.”

What has also changed is that Clinton is running a tighter-than-expected campaign in which she is facing a challenge from the left of the Democratic Party and needs to shore up her support. Her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline came shortly after she came out against the Obama administration’s decision to allow Shell to drill in the Arctic this summer – two hot-button issues for environmentalists.

Clinton also said one of her top priorities if elected would be to negotiate a “North American Climate Compact” with Canada and Mexico aimed at reducing carbon emissions across the continent.

Clinton’s tack to the left on environmental issues has taken many in the oil industry by surprise. She has typically been more sympathetic to the industry’s positions in the past, and many hoped for a more constructive relationship if Clinton wins the White House. What remains to be seen is if the recent positions are campaign trail posturing or a more permanent change in Clinton’s thinking.  

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