Sanders, Clinton fight for green vote in tight Calif. race

Sanders, Clinton fight for green vote in tight Calif. race
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Bernie SandersBernie SandersHarris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign 2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues Lee, Sanders introduce bill to tax Wall Street transactions MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHarris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests MORE are both hoping green voters will put them over the top as they near the end of a tight California primary fight.

Clinton this week locked up two key endorsements — from an environmental group and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) — both thanks to her positions on environmental issues. 

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Sanders, meanwhile, is taking his environmental message directly to California voters. He's endorsed local efforts to block new fracking operations, an issue where he argues Clinton is weak, and pushed her on other initiatives dear to greens.

“I urge Secretary Clinton to be bolder,” Sanders said at a climate change press conference on Thursday. 

“Of course she recognizes the reality of climate change, but I want her to join me in supporting a tax on carbon. I want her to change her views on the very important issue of fracking.”

Polls show a near dead-heat between Clinton and Sanders in California, the biggest prize on the Democratic primary calendar with 475 delegates up for grabs. It's a critical state for Sanders’ hope of winning the nomination.

Sanders needs a good result in the state to help make the case to uncommitted superdelegates ahead of the July convention. A Clinton win would cap off a primary campaign in which she’s already bested Sanders by millions of votes.

Their fight also comes as California experiences a number of environmental trends that greens blame on climate change and fights over fossil fuels that activists say call for a quick transition to clean energy.

Sanders highlighted several local issues during two events on climate and energy issues this week.

In Modesto, Calif., he noted the state’s five-year drought and the heat waves that come with it. He said rising sea levels threaten coastal businesses and torrential rains have led to chronic mudslides in the state.

A day earlier in Monterey County, he endorsed a local effort to ban hydraulic fracturing there, and slammed the Obama administration’s May ruling clearing the way for offshore fracking on California’s Pacific coast. 

Clinton has been in his crosshairs much of the time.

Sanders has played up his differences with the Dem front-runner, arguing that she'll leave green voters disappointed on key issues.

“Secretary Clinton and I obviously have many, many differences of opinions on many issues, but on the issue of fracking, our differences of opinion are pretty profound,” he said on Wednesday. “I think it is too late for regulation. I think fracking ought to be banned in America.”

For her part, Clinton put out a conservation plan earlier this week, and was also buoyed by winning key endorsements this week that could help her seal the deal with green voters.

Her allies have also played to her strength as front-runner and raised the specter of preventing a Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE presidency.

Brown endorsed Clinton on Tuesday, warning against what Trump would do to the environment if elected president. 

“Hillary Clinton has convincingly made the case that she knows how to get things done and has the tenacity and skill to advance the Democratic agenda,” Brown wrote in an endorsement note on his website, touting the advantage she has over Sanders in votes cast. 

“But there is more at stake than mere numbers. The Republican nominee, Donald Trump, has called climate change a ‘hoax’ and said he will tear up the Paris climate agreement.”

The same day, NRDC Action Fund, the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, backed Clinton’s campaign, calling her an “environmental champion” and again raising the specter of a Trump presidency. 

“It’s time for all Americans who care about environmental justice, public health and protecting the planet for future generations to unite — to stand with Hillary Clinton and reject Donald Trump and his big polluter agenda,” NRDC Action President Rhea Suh said. 

Environmental activists say California voters care deeply about these issues and that the two candidates will mobilize greens to head to the polls.

“I think Californians are very environmentally-minded, and I think it’s very important to a good many folks,” said David Braun, the co-founder of Americans Against Fracking, which hasn’t endorsed in the primary fight.  

“I think that Bernie Sanders talking about the environment and all of this discussion is really going to galvanize a good portion of the environmental movement to come out and vote their conscience on Tuesday.”

Adam Scow, the California director at Food and Water Watch, said green voters are frustrated by the pace of change at the federal and state level. Scow believes green voters will looking closely at which candidate will be the most aggressive on these issues.

“Sometimes we get a national reputation for being on the cutting edge and I think that’s a bit overblown,” he said of the state’s policymakers.

“My sense is voters are looking for elected officials, politicians who are willing to stand up to Big Oil.”

Sanders has looked to put local environmental issues — such as the natural gas storage leak outside Los Angeles and offshore fracking, approved as safe last week by the Obama administration — at the heart of his appeals to green voters in the state. 

California is full of environmental activists for whom that hands-on approach might be appealing, greens say.

Clinton, too, has tweaked her message to appeal to California voters.

In a Wednesday op-ed rolling out her plan to boost conservation efforts, Clinton said Golden State voters would like her plan because, "Californians understand better than most why we must improve how we manage water supplies that are challenged by higher temperatures, diminished snowpacks, and longer droughts."

"While protecting sensitive areas where development poses too great a risk, we can accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy by increasing renewable energy generation on public lands and offshore waters tenfold within a decade," she wrote, highlighting her green energy chops.

Even so Sanders backers say he's working harder to rally those voters on the ground.

Andrew Hsia-Coron, an alternate delegate for Sanders and an anti-fracking organizer, noted that more than 16,000 Californians signed a petition in less than two months to put a fracking ban on the Monterey County ballot this fall. He said Sanders’ work to the issue could pay off for him among those voters.  

“I think Bernie is resonating with something that is really big in California,” he said.