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Is Hillary Clinton all talk, no substance on climate policy?

There are precisely five mentions of the word on her entire campaign website — none particularly illuminating.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton makes her way through the Capitol's senate subway en route to the Democratic Senate Policy luncheon, July 14, 2015. 

“She spoke on climate. She is into it,” enthused one lawmaker.

“She was incredible,” swooned another, a climate-minded senator.

“Hillary Clinton wants to run on climate. And she thinks Democrats should too,” blared a headline in National Journal.

By Wednesday afternoon, word of Hillary Clinton’s closed-door luncheon this week with House and Senate Democrats was everywhere. But while the Democratic presidential candidate covered a long list of hot-button issues, her climate change policy — quite literally the hottest issue of all — seemed to dominate the political reactions.

The only problem is, well, Hillary Clinton doesn’t actually have a climate change policy.

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There are precisely five mentions of the word on her entire campaign website, none particularly illuminating. There’s talk of “adapting for tomorrow” with “domestic action” and “intensive global engagement” on “the global threat of climate change.”

How exactly will all this happen? Clinton doesn’t say.

There are precisely five mentions of the word on her entire campaign website, none particularly illuminating. '

Her competitor Bernie Sanders brought up that lack of detail in his own impromptu press conference in the Capitol on Tuesday. For the socialist junior senator from Vermont, it’s unacceptable for Clinton to smile-and-wave her way through issues of “planetary” importance. All the major environmental groups are likely to feel the same way.

“Our movement is looking for a candidate who has the political courage to move us off fossil fuels in time to avert catastrophic global warming,” Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesperson for 350 Action, said in an email. “Given her murky history on this issue, Hillary Clinton needs to do a lot to show us that's her.”

“We aren’t going to give her a demerit for failing to give a big climate speech by this date,” added Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club. “But we are looking for an agenda that’s bold, ambitious, and -- hopefully -- coming soon.”

There’s no doubting that Clinton appreciates the problem. She’s called climate change “one of the defining threats of our time,” and suggested she’d like to take more money from carbon polluters and funnel it toward clean energy. In a statement to Politico, a spokesperson for Clinton promised there would be more details to come.

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For now, however, the best we can do is return to the rare details that she’s already put down on the record. There is good news and bad news for environmentalists, and it all starts with a simple fact: Hillary Clinton is very likely to be a third term of President Barack Obama when it comes to climate policies.

Her campaign chair is John Podesta, one of Obama’s closest advisers on climate policy. She also defends Obama’s controversial policies on coal-fired power plants, which he has pursued without congressional support. That’s the good news for the greens.

Hillary Clinton is very likely to be a third term of President Barack Obama when it comes to climate policies.'

Obama has been aggressive when it comes to cutting carbon emissions, and Clinton has said she’ll not only protect his legacy but extend it. Here’s a passage environmentalists can love from her speech last December at the League of Conservation voters:  

“You pushed for and rallied behind President Obama’s use of the Clean Air Act to set the first ever federal limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, which are driving the most dangerous effects of climate change. As you know so well, power plants account for about 40% of the carbon pollution in the United States, and therefore must be addressed. And the unprecedented action that President Obama has taken must be protected at all cost.”

That’s a big deal. Obama’s proposed regulations have already been attacked by Republicans, and a Republican president would almost certainly weaken or repeal them. The battle to preserve Obama’s policy is important because it will help determine how many coal plants close in the near future.

The more coal plants that close, the better chance we have of lowering U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020, and as much as 28% by 2025. The more that we lower those emissions, the more likely it is that other nations will follow. In turn, the more likely it will be that world will really — seriously, no joke — slow the rise of the oceans and help the planet correct its course before it’s too late.

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If Clinton is a third-term of Obama, however, there’s also a lot still to be desired. She supports clean energy, for instance, but like Obama she seems to favor an “all of the above” approach to energy production. That means expanded offshore drilling, which Clinton supported as a senator in 2006.

It also means more use of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, to slurp up previously trapped oil and natural gas. She promoted the practice abroad when she was secretary of state, according to reporting by Grist and Mother Jones. That’s a deal-breaker for some voters, no matter how well she eventually defines her “smart regulations.”

The biggest deal-breakers of all, however, are all still pending. What is Clinton’s position on continued drilling in the Arctic? What does she think about the proposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline? She hasn’t taken a stance on either project yet. But activists have come out in force to fight both, and unless Clinton falls in line — and soon — they might end up fighting her as well.