Hillary Clinton opposes Keystone XL pipeline

Updated 7:23 PM EDT, Tue September 22, 2015
hillary clinton opposes keystone xl pipeline_00001510.jpg
hillary clinton opposes keystone xl pipeline_00001510.jpg
Now playing
03:31
Clinton opposes Keystone XL pipeline
orig The Keystone pipeline explained_00014327.jpg
orig The Keystone pipeline explained_00014327.jpg
Now playing
01:47
The Keystone pipeline debate in 2 mins
pool
Now playing
03:02
Trump signs oil pipeline executive actions
trump 0124
CNN
trump 0124
Now playing
01:32
Trump to advance controversial oil pipelines
Trump Tracker Keystone_00001811.jpg
Trump Tracker Keystone_00001811.jpg
Now playing
00:25
Trump on energy infrastructure
Secretary of State John Kerry has recommended that the U.S. reject the Keystone XL pipeline, senior administration officials told CNN, concluding the controversial project is not in the country's national security interest.
Pool
Secretary of State John Kerry has recommended that the U.S. reject the Keystone XL pipeline, senior administration officials told CNN, concluding the controversial project is not in the country's national security interest.
Now playing
03:01
Obama rejects Keystone XL pipeline
hillary clinton keystone pipline dnt zeleny ac_00001617.jpg
hillary clinton keystone pipline dnt zeleny ac_00001617.jpg
Now playing
01:42
Hillary Clinton opposes Keystone XL pipeline
Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to guests gathered for a house party on July 26, 2015 in Carroll, Iowa.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to guests gathered for a house party on July 26, 2015 in Carroll, Iowa.
Now playing
06:42
Dem. stratgist: Hillary will have to give Keystone answers
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 17: The sun begins to rise behind the U.S. Capitol building on the morning after a bipartisan bill was passed by the House and the Senate to reopened the government and raise the debt limit, on October 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Obama signed the bill into law, that will fund the government until January 15, 2014 and allow the government to pay bills until February 7, 2014.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 17: The sun begins to rise behind the U.S. Capitol building on the morning after a bipartisan bill was passed by the House and the Senate to reopened the government and raise the debt limit, on October 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Obama signed the bill into law, that will fund the government until January 15, 2014 and allow the government to pay bills until February 7, 2014.
Now playing
01:44
Senate fails to override veto of Keystone pipeline bill
Hillary Clinton Keystone Pipeline_00002504.jpg
Hillary Clinton Keystone Pipeline_00002504.jpg
Now playing
00:30
Hillary Clinton won't answer Keystone XL pipeline question
presidential veto pens origwx ac_00002524.jpg
presidential veto pens origwx ac_00002524.jpg
Now playing
01:21
Meet the pen Obama will use to veto Keystone
WASHINTON, DC - OCTOBER 2:  U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Awards Gala at the Washington Convention Center October 2, 2014 in Washington, DC. More than 2 million illegal immigrants have been deported during the Obama administration, a rate higher than under any previous president and intensifiying anger among some Hispanics. So to discourage children in Central America from making the dangerous trek across Mexico by themselves, Obama approved a plan this week to allow several thousand of these children to apply for refugee status so as to join relatives already living in the United States.  (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images
WASHINTON, DC - OCTOBER 2: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Awards Gala at the Washington Convention Center October 2, 2014 in Washington, DC. More than 2 million illegal immigrants have been deported during the Obama administration, a rate higher than under any previous president and intensifiying anger among some Hispanics. So to discourage children in Central America from making the dangerous trek across Mexico by themselves, Obama approved a plan this week to allow several thousand of these children to apply for refugee status so as to join relatives already living in the United States. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:07
White House: Obama will veto Keystone bill
tsr bash senate keystone pipeline vote fails_00001101.jpg
tsr bash senate keystone pipeline vote fails_00001101.jpg
Now playing
01:38
Senate fails to approve Keystone pipeline
President Obama speaks during a press conference in the briefing room of the White House.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama speaks during a press conference in the briefing room of the White House.
Now playing
04:49
Obama: Keystone issue is Canadian oil
politics mcconnell keystone pipeline_00001722.jpg
politics mcconnell keystone pipeline_00001722.jpg
Now playing
00:53
McConnell: Optimistic we'll pass Keystone

Story highlights

"I think it is imperative that we look at the Keystone pipeline as what I believe it is -- a distraction from important work we have to do on climate change," Clinton said

The Democratic 2016 front-runner announced her opposition to the project as Pope Francis landed in the United States

(CNN) —  

Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she opposes the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, taking sides with progressives who are fighting the 1,179-mile project over environmental concerns.

The announcement, which comes after months of Clinton remaining mum over the hot-button 2016 issue, immediately drew praise from liberals and environmental groups but was criticized by Republican presidential candidates.

“I think it is imperative that we look at the Keystone pipeline as what I believe it is – a distraction from important work we have to do on climate change,” Clinton told a community forum in Des Moines, Iowa.

“And unfortunately from my perspective, one that interferes with our ability to move forward with all the other issues,” she said. “Therefore I oppose it.”

The Democratic 2016 front-runner announced her opposition to the project – which is still the subject of a years-long State Department review – as Pope Francis landed in the United States, dominating national media attention.

RELATED: Clinton says decision on Keystone pipeline coming ‘soon’

Clinton had not previously disclosed her position on the campaign trail despite consistent questions about her position on the project, which is widely favored by conservatives but opposed by liberals who believe it will contribute to climate change. In explaining her answer Tuesday, Clinton said she didn’t want to interfere with a review process that started under her watch.

“I was in a unique position as secretary of state at the start of this process, and not wanting to interfere with ongoing decision-making that the President and Secretary (of State John) Kerry have to do in order to make whatever final decisions they need,” Clinton said. “So I thought this would be decided by now, and therefore I could tell you whether I agree or disagree, but it hasn’t been decided, and I feel now I’ve got a responsibility to you and voters who ask me about this.”

Speaking to the Des Moines Register’s editorial board after the event, Clinton said she had “no idea” she would be asked about the pipeline Tuesday.

But, she said, “I think I owed it to people to say where I stood,” adding, “clearly, the time had come for me to answer the question.”

Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director, said in a statement to CNN that Clinton’s role as a former secretary of state put her “in a different situation than other candidates.”

“Having the experience of being a former secretary of state distinguishes her and her candidacy, but it comes with responsibilities that at times can limit her,” Palmieri said. “But we know that the experience is well worth whatever price she may pay politically.”

A Clinton campaign aide told CNN that the former secretary of state couldn’t wait any longer to explain her position.

“She’s been taking on water for (not taking a position) … She didn’t want to jam Secretary Kerry or jam the President but it was just time. It’s September,” the aide said.

The aide said as pressure had mounted for Clinton to take a position, she wanted to give the administration space but doing so became untenable. The aide noted Clinton’s meeting with the Des Moines Register, and the campaign was expecting the question to come up. She wanted to be able to answer, the aide said.

The White House was briefed on Clinton’s position prior to her comments Tuesday, another Clinton aide said.

“Also, in the course of discussing her plans for increasing investment in energy infrastructure with labor officials in recent weeks, she privately made her opposition to the pipeline known to them as well,” the aide added.

RELATED: Is Hillary Clinton ‘likable enough’?

Clio Cullison, a student at Drake University who came to the event after a friend of hers at 350.org, an active climate change advocacy group that has regularly followed Clinton on the campaign trail, asked her to attend and ask Clinton about the pipeline.

“I was really nervous to ask,” Cullison told CNN. “I haven’t asked any political candidates a question ever, so that was really exciting.”

The student added that she “was afraid of her answer, to be honest. I didn’t know where she was going to stand. I didn’t know if she was going to answer at all. I am really glad she did answer, one, and two, did oppose the Keystone pipeline.”

A frequent question on the trail

Clinton has repeatedly been asked about Keystone on the campaign trail but has never answered directly.

“I am not going to second guess (President Barack Obama) because I was in a position to set this in motion,” Clinton said at a July event in New Hampshire. “I want to wait and see what he and Secretary Kerry decide.”

At the same event, she later added, “If it is undecided when I become president, I will answer your question.”

And throughout much of 2013 and 2014, Clinton criss-crossed the country on the paid speaking circuit and later on her book tour. She was asked about Keystone a number of times, particularly in Canada, where the pipeline would originate. At no point did she take a position, however.

Clinton’s announcement on Tuesday was met with praise from environmental groups.

Jane Kleeb, director of the anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska, said the decision “was a long time coming,” and demonstrates that Democratic candidates need to pay closer attention to the progressive base.

“Political insiders continue to not give credit to the climate movement and not give credit to farmers and ranchers who are opposed to these risky fossil fuel projects,” Kleeb told CNN. “This is a big part of her progressive base – people who are not just against Keystone but want to see action on climate change.”

And Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, said Clinton has slowly been moving in this direction since 2010, when she said she was “inclined” to approve the project. “It’s been a good evolution, always in the right direction,” he said.

“Over time, she has come to understand that a defining issue of the next election is climate change and there’s no way to address it seriously without this being answered,” McKibben said, calling it a “boondoggle” that he expects Obama to reject as well.

2016ers weigh in

Clinton’s Democratic presidential opponents have opposed the deal. On Tuesday, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, lambasted her for the delay in taking a position.

“On issue after issue – marriage equality, drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, children fleeing violence in Central America, the Syrian refugee crisis, and now the Keystone Pipeline, Secretary Clinton has followed – not forged – public opinion,” O’Malley said in a statement.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he was “glad” Clinton came out against the pipeline.

“As a senator who has vigorously opposed the Keystone pipeline from the beginning, I am glad that Secretary Clinton finally has made a decision and I welcome her opposition to the pipeline,” Sanders said. “Clearly it would be absurd to encourage the extraction and transportation of some of the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet.”

But Republican presidential hopefuls quickly bashed Clinton over the announcement. Jeb Bush slammed Clinton for favoring “environmental extremists” in making her decision.

“.@HillaryClinton finally says what we already knew. She favors environmental extremists over U.S. jobs. #KeystoneXL,” he tweeted.