Hillary Clinton mum on Keystone in speech to group vocally opposed to it

Hillary Clinton declined to weigh in on the Keystone XL pipeline during a speech on Monday in New York.

Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton took a pass at addressing the Keystone XL pipeline project before a pro-environment group Monday
  • Clinton has frequently declined to take a position on the controversial issue
  • Earlier in the day, Clinton attended a fundraiser for embattled pro-pipeline Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu
Hillary Clinton did not comment on the Keystone XL pipeline Monday while speaking before a conservation group that is strongly opposed to the plan.
During a 15-minute speech, Clinton spoke about the importance of green technology, the problems surrounding natural gas drilling and the fact that climate change exists and needs to be addressed more forcefully. But at no point did Clinton address the 1,179-mile-long project that would move oil from Canada to refineries in the United States at the League of Conservation Voters' New York dinner.
"There is no getting around the fact that the kind of ambitious response to effectively combat climate change is going to be a tough sell at home and around the world at a time when so many counties ... are grappling with slow growth and stretched budgets," Clinton said at the dinner. "Our economy still runs primarily on fossil fuels and trying to change that will take strong leadership."
Clinton also went after climate change deniers during the speech by noting sea levels are rising, ice caps are melting and storms are getting stronger.
"We do not have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy," she added.
Clinton's refusal to comment on the pipeline is not new.
The former secretary of state has repeatedly dodged the Keystone question and gave the issue zero mentions in her 2014 memoir. Clinton usually tells interested audiences -- usually groups in Canada or at environmental events -- that she doesn't want to comment on an issue currently in the hands of her successor, Secretary of State John Kerry.
But Keystone appears to be one of the only issues where Clinton follows that rule. The former first lady regularly comments on other issues currently on Kerry's plate, like Syria, the ongoing conflict with ISIS and talk over nuclear weapons with Iran.
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Both Republicans and Democrats have faulted Clinton for not commenting on the issue. America Rising, an anti-Clinton super PAC, has made the issue one of their most used recent attacks on Clinton, while liberal groups have pushed Clinton for specifics on her pipeline position.
Gene Karpinski, president of the conservation group, said he wasn't disappointed that Clinton didn't mention Keystone, primarily because he knows she doesn't comment.
"She has already been asked about that. That is not her decision right now," Karpinski said. "You heard her praise President Obama many, many times for his leadership on climate change and leaving a legacy. That is a decision left to him and the current secretary of state. That is where it should be."
The League of Conservation Voters has been pointedly against the pipeline for years and regularly urges supporters to call members of Congress and petition their government to kill the pipeline.
That said, Karpinski would not rule out backing a candidate who supports the pipeline and points to a few pro-pipeline senators the league backed in 2014.
Clinton's silence on Keystone was made more interesting given the fact that before her speech, the former senator from New York stumped for Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana at a New York fundraiser. Landrieu, a moderate Democrat who has been one of the pipeline's most outspoken proponents, is currently behind in a runoff race for her Senate seat.
In a way to win voters, Landrieu forced a vote on the pipeline in the Senate earlier this month. Though Landrieu voted in favor, many from her party did not and the bill failed by one vote.
Karpinski said he did not find it odd that Clinton stumped for Landrieu - a candidate the league did not back - before speaking to his group.
"There is nothing surprising about that at all," he said. "Many of our best friends in the Senate have done similar things. ... It is just what people do."
After Clinton's speech, she sat with a number of top environmental activists, including Tom Steyer, a Keystone opponent and big Democratic donor.
Questions about Clinton's position on Keystone are not likely to abate soon. Earlier on Monday, organizers announced Clinton would speak at two events in Canada on January 21 where Keystone is likely going to be addressed.