The biggest criticism lobbed at President Obama from the environmental movement is that he speaks out of both sides of his mouth. While he has always accepted that climate change is real and needs to be addressed, his proposals have always been countered by some sort of gift to the fossil fuel industry — leasing new lands for offshore drilling, expanding coal leases, increasing domestic oil exploration, lifting the crude oil export ban, etc.
So last November, when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that she would do away with the coal industry if elected president, environmentally conscious voters applauded her actions. Her proposal was broad, ambitious, and would have made a serious impact on the amount of carbon that the United States was producing while at the same time protecting both the economy and the environment.
As I wrote back in November about her proposal:
As part of her recently-released energy plan, Clinton would end incentives to the coal industry and would redirect that money to providing benefits to coal industry workers and helping to train them to move into new fields, most likely in the renewable energy industry. Clinton’s plan would spend as much as $30 billion to help ensure that the switch to renewables is as painless as possible for both workers and the economy.
Clinton’s plan could easily put an end to the “war on coal” talking point by showing that the Democratic Party understands the fears of American workers and that they will do whatever is necessary to make the transition as smooth as possible. It will also give communities a greater incentive to begin the shift to renewable energy.
The plan was absolutely brilliant because it addressed the concerns of everyone involved: It protected the livelihoods of the workers in the coal industry and virtually guaranteed them employment in a new field; it would end the practice that is responsible for much of the CO2 emissions in the U.S., following in the footsteps of other world leaders; and it would preserve the environment from the harmful substances pumped out as waste products from the burning of coal.
But as we’ve seen too often, once the cameras and the reporters moved on to other issues, Clinton began working on how best to retract that plan. It took her nearly six months, but she finally did it:
The exchange was the result of Clinton being confronted by an out of work coal miner who asked why she wanted to kill the industry. Rather than answering the man and saying that she wants to move coal employees into the renewable energy field to make sure they can provide for their families, or pointing out that the coal industry is crumbling already due to a lack of demand, Clinton decided to simply walk back her previous comments and play victim by claiming that they had been taken “out of context.”
Not only did Clinton miss a big opportunity to double down on her previous proposal and put fears about unemployment to rest, but she also gave us a clear picture that her administration would not differ in the slightest from the Obama administration.
The problem here is that time is up. The planet can’t afford another four years of inaction on the part of the United States, and Clinton’s willingness to walk back her greatest policy proposal shows that the environment may not fare any better under her leadership than it has in the last seven years.