January 17, 2016

Contact: Lindsay Meiman, (347) 460-9082

Environmentalists Looking for Climate to Be a Priority in Democratic Debate

During final pre-primary debate, Democratic candidates must amplify climate justice agendas

Charleston, SC — Environmentalists are urging debate moderators and candidates to make climate and energy issues a priority in tonight’s debate.

While climate and energy related issues have made headlines over the past few months, with record breaking extreme weather events and disasters like the Porter Ranch methane leak making headlines, debate moderators have all but ignored the issue. According to a report from Media Matters, moderators have asked more than ten times as many non-substantive questions, many about the trivial horserace of the election, than they have about climate change. Even when debate moderators did ask about climate change, the framing was often inaccurate or dismissive.

A serious debate about climate and energy issues could reveal important distinctions between the three Democratic candidates for President. On Friday, President Obama announced a new moratorium on all new coal leases on public lands, spelling the end of the coal mining in the United States. Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have already called for a full ban on fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Clinton has yet to take a firm public position, and some activists worry that the candidate’s positions may be influenced by her connections to the fossil fuel industry.

Senators Sanders and O’Malley have both pledged to refuse all donations from the fossil fuel industry, while Clinton has made no such pledge. The former Secretary of State claims she is unaware of the $150,000 in donations from the industry to her campaign and has vowed to look further into said donations. Since then, Clinton has not taken any public stance on the industry, illustrating her clear lag on climate justice issues relative to her fellow Democratic rivals.

“Clinton recently said that ‘environmental justice can’t just be a slogan — it has to be a goal.’ If she truly believes that, this is her opportunity to prove it,” said Yong Jung Cho, Campaign Coordinator with “She vowed to look into fossil fuel industry donations to her campaign, but has yet to do so. She’s still tiptoeing on issues around fossil fuel extraction on public lands. The next leader of our country needs to lay out exactly how they plan to keep fossil fuels in the ground and prove that climate justice is a goal.”

Meanwhile, the Porter Creek disaster has shined a harsh spotlight on the dangers of aging natural gas infrastructure and has revitalized concerns around the impact fracking has on communities and the climate. Sanders supports a fracking ban, while Clinton has avoided commenting directly on the issue. Environmentalists have expressed concern over her record of promoting fracking around the world during her tenure at the State Department.

“As the worst environmental disaster since the BP oil spill continues to unfold just outside of Los Angeles, it is more urgent than ever for the next leader of our country to stand up this rogue industry,” said Cho.

Offshore drilling could also be a subject for discussion in tonight’s debate. While an industry-conducted poll found that South Carolinians support offshore drilling, every single municipality along the state’s coast has passed a referendum against it. Last month, over 400 South Carolina businesses delivered a letter to Governor Haley, urging removal of waters off the state’s coast from consideration for offshore drilling, focusing on the threat this practice poses to the coastal economy and ecosystems.

No matter the exact tact, it’s clear that climate and energy questions could result in a substantive and rich discussion at tonight’s debate. If moderators don’t raise the important questions on the table, activists and voters certainly will in the weeks ahead.


350 Action is working in primary states to urge candidates for president to take bold action on climate change by pledging to keep fossil fuels in the ground and support a just transition to a 100% renewable energy future.