January 27, 2016
Contact: Jason Kowalski, (202) 670-5345
How the Presidential Candidates Have Moved (Or Not) on Climate
Full list of links to videos and articles at the bottom
Manchester, N.H. — Over the last six months, a network of climate activists, college students and volunteers have been showing up at rallies and events across the country to ask Presidential candidates about an issue that can often go missing from the campaign trail: climate change.
Coordinated by 350 Action, the 501(c)(4) political arm of 350.org, these paid staff and volunteers have helped push the leading Democratic candidates to adopt more progressive positions on the issue, and exposed some of the most outrageous cases of climate denial on the Republican side of the race.
“The 2012 election went by with only the slightest mention of climate change,” said Yong Jung Cho, Campaign Coordinator with 350 Action. “This year, we set out to make it one of the most talked about issues in the race, and expand the debate to force candidates to address issues of climate justice, and how the environment intersects with other issues like race, class, and immigration.”
350 Action estimates that it has asked more than 70 direct questions and reached every top presidential candidate multiple times.
On the Democratic side of the race, the 350 Action team has helped push Sanders, Clinton and O’Malley to address some of the highest profile climate and environmental justice issues facing the nation, driving each candidate to take progressively stronger stances as the race has continued.
Persistent questioning drove one of the most notable political “evolutions” of the campaign thus far: Hillary Clinton’s position on the Keystone XL pipeline. 350 Action volunteers first asked the former Secretary of State about her position on the project on July 28th, when she responded that “If it is undecided when I become president, I will answer your question.” A 350 Action volunteer pushed Clinton again on September 17th and responded, “I have been waiting for the administration to make a decision. I can’t wait much longer.” The very next day, September 18th, she got pressured again. Finally on September 22nd, after a question from a 350 Action volunteer in Iowa, Clinton pivoted and said, “I oppose it.”
All three Democratic candidates have also faced questions on offshore drilling, fracking, fossil fuel extraction on public lands, fossil fuel divestment, the investigation into ExxonMobil’s climate lies, and whether they will take a pledge to refuse fossil fuel industry contributions. On the last question, both Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders answered “yes,” while Clinton said she didn’t think she received much money from the industry, but she was “gonna take a look.” (Reports have shown that almost all of the Clinton campaign’s top bundlers have ties to the fossil fuel industry).
The massive methane leak in Porter Ranch has brought a harsh spotlight on the dangers of fracking into the presidential election. Just last week, Bernie Sanders told a 350 Action campaigner that he would shut down the well and expressed his strong stance against this extreme extraction. When a student with 350 Action asked Hillary Clinton about fracking, she expressed her support for Porter Ranch communities but refused to take a strong position on fracking. Asked again only hours later, Clinton told a 350 Action volunteer that “unless spills can be prevented it should not go forward.”
As for the Republicans, 350 Action and their supporters have had more luck eliciting declarations of climate denial and defenses of the fossil fuel industry than any significant evolution on the issue. Texas Senator Ted Cruz told a student in January that, “It is in fact a fact that the polar ice caps are bigger today than they were before…we have had 18 years of no significant warming whatsoever.” Both statements are factually incorrect. In November, Florida Senator Marco Rubio told a 350 Action volunteer that “it doesn’t matter” if fossil fuels cause climate change because his priority is keeping the economy strong. Asked this January about investigations into whether ExxonMobil lied about climate change to the American public, Rubio said the inquiries were “nothing but a left wing effort to demonize industries in America.”
“I never thought that when I grew up I’d become a professional question-asker,” said Miles Goodrich, a recent graduate from Bowdoin College, who has been stationed in New Hampshire for the last 4 months. “I certainly never raised my hand this much in school. The key is to find a good position visible to the candidate, get your hand up early, keep the question succinct, and always go for a follow up. They usually try and dodge the issue the first time.”
While 350 Action’s teams on the ground have peppered the candidates with questions around the country, its volunteers and everyday voters unaffiliated with the campaign who have kept the climate issue in the spotlight, according to Cho, the organization’s coordinator.
“There will be moments where we’ve got someone waiting to ask a climate question and then another Iowa or New Hampshire voter will get called on and take the words right out of our mouths,” she said. “With the crazy weather, big political developments like Keystone and the Paris Climate Talks, and disasters like the water in Flint and the methane leak in California, climate and energy issues are on the forefront of many voters’ minds. People are looking for leadership, we’re just helping ask the right questions to see who’s ready to provide it.”
During the busy primary months ahead, 350 Action will continue to pressure all presidential candidates to take stronger stances on the climate movement’s top priorities and pressing issues of the day. In particular, the campaign is looking for commitments to end fossil fuel development on public land, strong stances against fracking, support for a rapid just transition to 100% renewable energy, and a commitment to pursue environmental justice for communities across the United States and around the world.
Democratic Candidate Questions and Answers
- Clinton 2010: inclined to approve KXL
- Sanders Nov 2011: “In my view, the evidence is overwhelming that this pipeline is not in the best interest of our environment or the economic interest of the American people, and the president should reject it.”
- Clinton July 28 2015: “if it is undecided when I become president, I will answer your question…I will not express an opinion until they have made a decision, and then I will do so.”
- Clinton Sept 17 2015: “I have been waiting for the administration to make a decision. I can’t wait much longer. And I am putting the White House on notice. I’m going to tell you what I think soon because I can’t wait.”
- Clinton Sept 18 2015: “what I have said is that you will hear from me shortly, and you will, but you’re not gonna hear from me today”
- Clinton Sept 22 2015: “I oppose it”
- O’Malley June 2015: releases white paper announcing opposition to drilling permits in the Arctic
- Sanders Nov 4: introduces “Keep It In The Ground” Act, banning all new fossil fuel extraction on public lands, including the Arctic
- Clinton Oct 16: “we want to keep more fossil fuels under the ocean and in the ground, that’s why I’m against Arctic drilling”
- Aug 18 tweet: “The Arctic is a unique treasure. Given what we know, it’s not worth the risk of drilling”
- Sanders Oct 2014: supports state fracking bans in Vermont and California
- Sanders Jan 21: “I’m against fracking, I’m against pipelines.”
- Clinton Jan 22: “I oppose irresponsible use of technology. I oppose a failure to disclose the chemicals. I oppose a lack of monitoring of methane. So, those are all the problems, and I don’t know whether they can be solved or not.”
- O’Malley Jan 24: supports (regulated) fracking
New fossil fuel extraction on public lands
- O’Malley Nov 3: “probably” would end new leasing of fossil fuels on public lands
- Sanders Nov 4: introduces “Keep It In The Ground” Act, banning all new fossil fuel extraction on public lands
- Clinton July 16: no to banning fossil fuel extraction on public lands
- Sanders Sept 20: supports divestment
- O’Malley Oct 28: supports divestment
- Clinton Dec 3: “I would like to see more investment decisions moving toward clean, renewable energy and away from fossil fuels” but responsibly
- O’Malley Oct 16 tweet: “We held tobacco companies responsible for lying about cancer. Let’s do the same for oil companies & climate change. http://omly.us/1RfPi0U”
- Sanders Oct 20: Calls for Federal investigation of Exxon’s climate crimes
- Clinton Oct 29: “there’s a lot of evidence they misled people”
- Dec 8: “Exxon Mobil funded all of this climate research, like starting 30, 35 years ago, and guess what! Their scientists found out that fossil fuels contributed to greenhouse gas emissions which contributed to global warming. Those were Exxon Mobil scientists who made that report. And then the company decided to try to just keep sixin’.”
Offshore drilling in the Atlantic
- O’Malley Feb 2015: “very much opposed to drilling off the Atlantic coast”
- Sanders Nov 4: introduces “Keep It In The Ground” Act, banning all new fossil fuel extraction on public lands, including offshore drilling in the Atlantic.
- Clinton Dec 16: “I was doing a phone interview with, in South Carolina, I am, you know, not in favor of drilling off our coast”
- Clinton Dec 16: “very skeptical about need or desire for us to pursue offshore drilling”
Campaign contributions from fossil fuel industry
- Sanders/O’Malley July 6/7: sign pledge to refuse fossil fuel industry contributions
- Clinton Dec 16: vows to look into FFI contributions “Well I’m gonna take a look, you’re asking me a question I never paid attention to because they don’t actually come and talk to me. I think they think I’m a lost cause, which I probably am.”
GOP Questions and Answers