The Commonwealth Blog

Hillary Clinton's Commonwealth Club Remarks Continue to Spur Debate

Dec 15, 2010 @ 11:51 AM
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (right) discusses U.S. environmental and foreign policy with Commonwealth Club Vice President and Climate One Director Greg Dalton. Photo by Sonya Abrams.
When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared before a giant crowd at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in October, she discussed a wide range of issues. Mexico's drug war, technology, expansion of diplomacy, Afghanistan, a crude oil pipeline.

It is that last item, the pipeline, that is causing lasting controversy. As Politico.com – a Washington, D.C.-based political web site – reports today, critics such as Republican Sen. Mike Johanns (Neb.) have gone after the secretary for saying the Obama administration was inclined to approve a pipeline that would bring crude oil from Alberto into the United States.

Politico reports:
“The State Department and the Obama administration are in a real jam,” Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) told Politico. “They want to look very environmental, and I just think they’re just struggling on what to do with this thing.”

Johanns and other critics of the pipeline lambasted Clinton for comments she made in October suggesting the department was “inclined” to greenlight the pipeline even as thousands of comments were still being reviewed as part of an ongoing environmental assessment.

... Johanns has contended that Clinton’s remarks will inevitably lead to lawsuits citing that the department had come to a premature conclusion if it grants the pipeline. “For her to come out and say we’re inclined to grant it when the public comments had not been fully reviewed certainly is going to lay the groundwork for someone to claim that the process was arbitrary and capricious,” he said.

... Clinton has since emphasized — as recently as in a letter last week to Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — that the department has not finished its review of the plan to build a 1,700-mile pipeline through five states — entering Montana, through South Dakota and Nebraska before meeting up with an existing pipeline in Kansas. It then continues in Oklahoma and into Texas.

“In order for the State Department to make a sound decision, it is important that we conduct our review in a thorough and transparent manner, taking into consideration all relevant factors, including both environmental and economic impacts,” Clinton wrote.
The Politico article does not quote Clinton's original comments at length. However, here is the original comment the secretary of state made in her on-stage conversation with Climate One Director and Commonwealth Club Vice President Greg Dalton:
DALTON: Another international issue that you signed in on last year was the Alberta Clipper, a pipeline from Alberta that brings tar sands, oil sands directly into Wisconsin to the U.S. Midwest. This is some of the dirtiest fuel in the world. How can the U.S. be saying climate change is a priority when we're mainlining some of the dirtiest fuel that exists?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there hasn't been a final decision made. It is –
DALTON: Are you willing to reconsider it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Probably not. And we — but we haven't finished all of the analysis. 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.
Now, that hasn't stopped what we're doing. We have moved a lot on the regulatory front through the EPA here at home and we have been working with a number of countries on adaptation and mitigation measures. But obviously, it was one of the highest priorities of the administration for us to enshrine in legislation President Obama's commitment to reducing our emissions. So we do have a lot that still must be done. And it is a hard balancing act. It's a very hard balancing act. But it is also, for me, energy security requires that I look at all of the factors that we have to consider while we try to expedite as much as we can America's move toward clean, renewable energy. And the double disappointment is that despite China's resistance to transparency and how difficult it was for President Obama and I to drive even the Copenhagen Agreement that we finally got by crashing a meeting of China and India and Brazil and South Africa, which –
DALTON: I would have liked to have seen that one.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, that was — [audience applause] — well, so we got the Copenhagen Agreement and China did sign up for it. But at the same time, they're making enormous investments in clean energy technology. And if we permit that to happen, shame on us. And it is something that United States should be the leader in. It is one of the ways to stimulate and grow our economy and create good jobs. So that's just a small window into the dilemma that we're confronted with.
You can read an excerpt of her entire program in the digital edition of the current issue of The Commonwealth magazine.