We are more than 17 months away from the next presidential election, but already the candidates are staking out their territory. Energy policy is high among the issues voters care about, especially the millennial generation that could swing the election. Though no one expects the Keystone XL decision to wait until then– please, don’t let it go that long– the pipeline may hold insight into the candidates’ positions on energy and the environment.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the only candidate who has come out soundly against KXL. He has consistently opposed every measure that Congress has moved to pressure the White House into approving the pipeline, and he has called out members of Congress from both parties for their failure to confront climate change and greenhouse-gas emissions.

After that vote in November, Sanders continued focusing his ire on Big Oil’s minions on Capitol Hill, showing precious little patience for their anti-science stance.

The Democratic frontrunner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not made her position clear on Keystone XL. In fact, she has steadfastly refused to speak about it, telling a Canadian audience in January, “We [she and President Obama] have differences, and you won’t get me to talk about Keystone because I have steadily made clear that I’m not going to express an opinion. It is in our process and that’s where it belongs.”

This is actually an appropriate response from the nation’s former top diplomat who’s no longer a member of the administration. But it’s less convincing coming from a presidential candidate who’s had a long, cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry, as the New Republic detailed, and who also once said she was “inclined” to approve KXL. On top of that, Credo Action is collecting a petition to get Clinton to return funds donated to the Clinton Foundation by the Canadian government agency that’s been pushing Keystone XL in the US.

Clinton has said, though, that the environmental protection steps “that President Obama has taken must be protected at all costs.” Mother Jones offers that a Clinton presidency might be a lot like a third Obama term on energy and environment policy, but that this is not necessarily a good thing:

Her close confidant and campaign chair, John Podesta, served as an Obama advisor with a focus on climate policy. Like Obama and Podesta, Clinton certainly seems to appreciate the seriousness of the threat of catastrophic climate change and to strongly support domestic policies and international agreements to reduce carbon emissions. But, like Obama and Podesta, she subscribes to an all-of-the-above energy policy. She promotes domestic drilling for oil and natural gas, including through potentially dangerous fracking.

Although Podesta also won’t speak directly about KXL, he did have some stern words for Canada’s greenhouse gas policies, telling The Guardian, “I think that there is a C02 premium on oil that is coming out of the oil sands and I think that has to be offset through other policies that they need to implement, or else that is a strategy that is likely to result in excessive emissions.”

The newest entry into the Democratic field, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, is expected to be a friend to the green energy movement, having made it a focal point of his announcement speech.

Climate change is real. We must create an American jobs agenda to build a new renewable energy future. We must launch a new agenda to rebuild America’s cities as places of Justice and Opportunity for all. And if we take these actions… the dream will live again.

And he’s no johnny-come-lately to the climate change issue. O’Malley has been advocating for a commitment to renewable energy for many years. And he’s got a history of putting money where his mouth is.

More to the present point, O’Malley spoke out against KXL on his Facebook page last November, calling the pipeline “smallball” as an approach to energy policy.

It’s time to reject the either/or and smallball choices facing us on energy. I hope the Senate rejects ‪#‎KeystoneXL‬ – it’s too much carbon dioxide, and not nearly enough jobs (only about 50 jobs permanent once construction is finished).

We need a strategy that invests in innovation to harness the potential of renewable energy. It’s time to build a national renewable energy grid. That would both create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and reduce carbon emissions. With a bold focus on renewable energy, we can solve the climate challenge, unleash America’s innovative spirit, and re-invigorate American economic dynamism.

So the Democratic field has two very strong advocates for clean energy and climate change action, both opposed to Keystone XL, and one who was “inclined” to approve KXL and advocated for fracking. That the front-runner is the one with the least enthusiastic environmental record is going to be troublesome for the green groups that make up a good chunk of the Democratic base.

But… and this is hardly surprising… all of the Democratic candidates are better on the environment than all of the Republican candidates. Almost all of whom are climate deniers.

But we’ll get into that later.


UPDATE: Since this article was published on June 3, Clinton has hired lobbyist Jeff Berman as a campaign consultant. Berman’s lobbying firm was paid nearly $1 million to lobby on behalf of Keystone XL. Also, the Huffington Post reports that Clinton earned $1.6 million in speaking fees from two Canadian banks closely linked to KXL.

Also, former Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) has joined the race for the Democratic nomination. The Navy veteran is something of a mixed bag on energy and environmental policy. According to, Webb voted no on factoring climate change into government project planning, but voted to remove subsidies for oil and gas exploration. He also supported the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

His position on Keystone XL, however, is best demonstrated by his angry tweets in response to President Obama’s veto of the bill that would have forced him to approve KXL, as captured by Mother Jones.


Webb seems to have bought into the fantasy that KXL will create 40,000 jobs. Which we know to be false as even the love-letter of a State Department report, written by TransCanada’s long-time business partner ERM, says only 3,900 job-years (i.e., 1950 jobs per year for two years) will be needed for construction, while only 35 full-time workers would be needed once the pipeline is built.

And while that conflict-of-interest laden report said Keystone XL would not add significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA, as well as a study funded by the Department of Energy, say that is absolute nonsense.

Given environmental voters’ strength in the Democratic Party, Webb will have to address their concerns about KXL and energy policy, generally.

Also, since Webb asserted that he owes nothing to Big Oil, we looked at his campaign contributions.

According to, the Energy & Natural Resources sector has given him $113,756 over the course of his political career, ranking tenth among his top donors.

As for the other candidates’ career take from the ENR sector, via Open Secrets: (total, rank)

Clinton: $1,543,719, 8th

Sanders: $50,850, 10th

O’Malley: no data.