Energy & Environment

Left pressures Clinton for position on pipeline

Greg Nash/The Hill

Hillary Clinton is coming under increasing pressure from progressives to oppose the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Nearly a month after the Obama administration halted its consideration of an easement for the project, activists want to know why the Democratic presidential nominee has remained silent.

{mosads}“We definitely need Secretary Clinton to make a statement on it,” said Jane Kleeb, president of Bold Alliance and a leading activist voice in the national fight against fossil fuel pipelines.

“We don’t know where she stands, and we don’t know where she stands on the general build-out of pipelines,” Kleeb said.

Polls show Clinton is struggling to win over millennial supporters of her former rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has come out in strong opposition to the North Dakota-to-Illinois pipeline. American Indians say the project would endanger water supplies for people of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

Environmentalists have compared the Dakota Access project to the Keystone XL pipeline and are warning Clinton that her continued silence will have consequences. They argue that her opposition to the project could bolster support among young voters.

“If Hillary Clinton takes a stand against it, she could demonstrate her climate leadership and fire up the young voters she’s trying to reach,” said May Boeve, executive director of’s political arm, 350 Action.

“This will likely be one of the top issues on the desk of the next president, and we’ll continue holding that person accountable for ending this destructive project,” she said.

Dakota Access is a tough issue for Clinton, as major unions support the project just as they backed Keystone. Opposition to the new pipeline would put Clinton in direct confrontation with unions.

“I think she, as a typical politician, would like to stall and not take a position, because she can’t afford to antagonize labor,” said Aseem Prakash, a political science professor at the University of Washington. “And labor is very pro-pipeline.”

The AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the Laborers’ International Union of North America all back the pipeline, though the Service Employees International Union, the American Postal Workers Union, and National Nurses United oppose it.

The latter two unions, among other labor groups opposing the pipeline, all backed Sanders in the Democratic primaries, and Democrats in Congress have also come out against the project. Nineteen House Democrats sent a letter to Obama on Sept. 29 opposing it.

The pipeline would run through four states, but the main clash has been in North Dakota, where developer Energy Transfer Partners needs an Army Corps of Engineers permit to build under Lake Oahe, through land that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe considers sacred.

The Army Corps paused its consideration of the easement on Sept. 9 amid protests and pressure from activists. The administration said it needed to review how agencies like the Army Corps consult with Indian tribes that could be affected by their actions.

Clinton has not spoken publicly about Dakota Access, and her campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

When a 350 activist asked Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), about the issue on the campaign trail Sept. 1, he said he wasn’t familiar enough with it to comment — signaling the sensitivity of the issue.

“I just got a memo on that in the last 24 hours, and I haven’t been able to read it yet,” he said. “That’s one that I’ve got to educate myself on.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has not spoken specifically about Dakota Access, though he has been very supportive of the oil and natural gas industries and their policy positions.

At a gas industry conference in Pittsburgh in September, Trump said he’d approve infrastructure projects like pipelines that had been held up.

“Billions of dollars in private infrastructure investment have been lost to the Obama-Clinton restriction agenda, and many, many billions more to follow,” he said.

“Now, if I’m president, they’ll happen quickly, I can tell you that. Happen very quickly. You’ll be amazed how quickly they’ll happen.”

Third-party candidates complicate Clinton’s path to the White House. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein are sucking away support from both Clinton and Trump.

Stein is a vocal opponent of the pipeline and faces criminal charges after she spray-painted construction equipment in North Dakota. She challenged Clinton the day of the protest to stake out a position on the project on Twitter.

The Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now Coalition, a business-backed group supporting Dakota Access, hopes Clinton will publicly back the project.

“Supporting [the pipeline] is critically important for Secretary Clinton because it would send a signal to the business community that, as president, she would support large scale infrastructure projects,” Craig Stevens, the group’s spokesman, said in a statement.

But doing so would bring harsh criticism from the left, making it an unlikely outcome before the election.

Activist Bill McKibben, founder of, told Amy Goodman of progressive radio show Democracy Now that he has “no idea” where Clinton stands on Dakota Access because of her silence.

“Let’s hope that that changes, because this is not only a practical challenge. At this point, it’s a clear moral test,” he said on Sept. 30. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Gary Johnson Hillary Clinton Tim Kaine
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