The phrase “climate change” was mentioned in more than 1,200 emails in John Podesta’s inbox that were hacked by WikiLeaks, according to Politico, which amounts to more email mentions than Obamacare received.
In terms of energy policy, the emails from the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign do not necessarily offer major revelations or stark contradictions, but they do show the pains the campaign is taking to produce an energy policy that addresses climate change without alienating trade unions and other key constituents.
Clean energy superpower
Clinton’s staff is careful to highlight that the tagline for her energy policy is positioning the U.S. as a “clean energy superpower.” In many ways, it’s just a talking point, but one that the campaign knows has to come across as being sincere.
In an email about giving remarks for a call with the Natural Resources Defense Council, strategist Joel Benenson says, “This has to feel like a cause she's really passionate about and is going to fight for.” In other emails, the staff outlines exactly which trade unions will benefit or fight her specific proposals under her energy plan, and how that will be balanced.
Threading the needle on ethanol
In another email, Clinton’s speechwriter Dan Schwerin patted the team on the back for its National Journal op-ed about mending, but not eliminating, the ethanol mandate.
Originally, the campaign's position was less pro-ethanol, and more about supporting advanced biofuels that may not be corn-based, but Podesta suggested that it be slated as explicitly more “ethanol-friendly” in an email ahead of a trip to Iowa. The back-and-forth suggests that environmentalists and biofuels experts could change Clinton’s mind about the best course for biofuels if she makes it to the White House.
Pushing back on fossil fuels
One of the energy-related leaks that has received the most press is Clinton's statement that environmentalists who want her to pledge to end reliance on fossil fuels should “get a life.”
The comment does not have to be seen as anti-clean energy, according to Politico. “Seen in context, [it] reads like more of a rejoinder to remove their heads from the clouds than a personal slam,” Elana Schor wrote last week. The International Energy Agency forecasts that in 2040, three-quarters of the world’s energy mix will still be fossil fuels.
In practice, however, the Clinton campaign is quietly positioning itself for a very low fossil fuel future. With a goal to cut emissions more than 80 percent by 2050, Podesta doesn’t see fossil fuels playing a substantial role in the mix four decades from now.
When a staffer asked him during the primaries about attacking Martin O’Malley’s call for 100 percent renewables by 2050, Podesta replied, “We need to get to an 80 percent emission reduction by 2050, which implies close to a zero-carbon energy sector.”
Carbon tax, discussed and ditched
Clinton’s staff took a long look at the possibility of a carbon tax in early 2015, which they called a greenhouse gas fee, but decided it was too tough of a sell for both Republicans and the American people. It would raise energy costs, but those would be offset by a credit each household would get from the fee collected from the emitters of greenhouse gases.
Another later email raised the issue briefly again, noting that if Clinton had instead supported the Keystone pipeline, approval could have been tied to an industry carbon tax, as Michael Bloomberg had suggested.
A clear call on Keystone
Clinton was silent on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline for months, as to not go against the White House, which didn’t deny the permit until late 2015.
Podesta and others saw that not taking a position was dangerous, however, equating it to Al Gore’s decision to fail to take a position on converting Florida’s Homestead Air Force base to a commercial airport.
The decision to offer Clinton’s position against the pipeline during a meeting with the Building Trades Union was carefully planned, but later interactions showed that Clinton is evolving her strategy to embrace a more comprehensive approach to pipelines, rather than addressing them one by one.
Check out these stories below for more on Hillary Clinton’s evolving energy policy:
- Hillary Clinton’s Energy Adviser Goes Deep on Solar, Energy Regulation, Climate and Trump
- The Civil War Over Carbon Taxes
- Hillary Clinton’s Climate Change Plan Includes Massive Growth in Solar