Hillary Clinton on the Keystone XL Pipeline

Where the Likely 2016 Presidential Hopeful Stands on the Project

Final Presidential Debate Between Hillary Clinton And Donald Drumpf Held In Las Vegas
Final Presidential Debate Between Hillary Clinton And Donald Drumpf Held In Las Vegas. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton’s position on the Keystone XL pipeline will play an important role in the 2016 election if she decides to seek the presidency. Construction of the controversial pipeline is perhaps the single most controversial environmental issue on the political landscape, and it very well may be unresolved when the campaigning begins.

President Barack Obama’s administration, in particular, the Department of State, may determine the fate of the pipeline before then. If not, the Keystone XL pipeline issue could harm Clinton’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination because of her ties to the project developer, her support of the pipeline and her apparent willingness to alienate more liberal members of the party who are concerned about the environment.

Bill McKibben, perhaps the most outspoken opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, has said Clinton believes most voters will have forgotten about her statements in support of the project by the time the campaign begins.

"She doubtless figures four years is a long time, and — even though it’s the one environmental issue in decades that’s brought big crowds of environmentalists into the streets — that voters will forget her stance on the pipeline," McKibben wrote in a 2012 essay for The Daily Beast.

Clinton Denial of the Pipeline

The Department of State did not issue a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline while Clinton served as secretary of State. Environmentalists suspected Clinton supported the project and was preparing to award it the administration’s stamp of approval. But that didn’t happen before Clinton left the administration and former U.S. Sen. John Kerry was tapped for secretary of State.

In fact, in 2012, Clinton's Department of State recommended President Barack Obama deny the Keystone KL pipeline after Congress set a 60-day deadline for the administration to review the project. However, that decision was rooted in the time constraints and not the merits of the pipeline plan itself.

"The president concurred with the department’s recommendation, which was predicated on the fact that the Department does not have sufficient time to obtain the information necessary to assess whether the project, in its current state, is in the national interest," the State Department said in January 2012.

Echoed the Obama administration: "As the State Department made clear ... the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment."

Criticism of Clinton

Environmentalists and opponents of the pipeline have been critical of Clinton because of her political ties to TransCanada, the company that is planning to build Keystone XL. The company’s top lobbyist, Paul Elliott, served as the national deputy director for Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.

Environmental activists have claimed that several other lobbyists with ties to Clinton and President Barack Obama have worked to win approval for the pipeline. Published reports have also accused Clinton’s State Department of having a “cozy” relationship with TransCanada.

The State department publicly defended itself against claims that Clinton’s past association with Elliott represented a conflict of interest in the environmental and legal reviews of the Keystone XL pipeline.

"The Department is considering this permit application on its merits," the State department said in a written statement in 2010. "The Department is not, and will not, be influenced by prior relationships that current government officials have had."

Clinton’s Public Statements on the Pipeline

During a 2010 speaking engagement, Clinton appeared to be supportive of the pipeline from Canada and told an audience that her Department of State was “inclined to" give TransCanada approval for its project.

This is what Clinton said about the Keystone XL pipeline in response to a question at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco event:

"So as I say, we've not yet signed off on it. But we are inclined to do so and we are for several reasons — going back to one of your original questions — we're either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada. And until we can get our act together as a country and figure out that clean, renewable energy is in both our economic interests and the interests of our planet, I mean, I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone how deeply disappointed the President and I are about our inability to get the kind of legislation through the Senate that the United States was seeking."

The Keystone XL pipeline is only one phase of a project to carry oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. It would carry oil across 1,179 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska. Estimates have placed the cost of building the pipeline at $7.6 billion.