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Hillary Clinton to environmentalists: I'm one of you

Hillary Clinton told green donors she’s one of them -– even if she won't take a stand on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline at the moment.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attends an event in New York, N.Y. on Oct. 23, 2014. (Photo by Andrew Gombert/EPA)
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attends an event in New York, N.Y. on Oct. 23, 2014.

Hillary Clinton came to a League of Conservation Voters fundraiser Monday to assure the green donors that she is one of them – even if she won't take a stand on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline at the moment.

In a forceful speech at the deep-pocketed environmental group’s annual dinner in New York City, the former secretary of state scolded climate “deniers," called for bold leadership on global warming and praised leading environmentalists -- all while touting her own victories in the field.

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Clinton's speech capped an awkward day on the pipeline issue for the likely 2016 presidential candidate. The League of Conservation Voters is strongly opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sand oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. But earlier Monday, Clinton raised funds for a politician on the other side of the issue -- Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who recently proposed a bill to approve the pipeline's construction.

Clinton acknowledged that dealing with climate change will be politically challenging, but cited the legacy of President Teddy Roosevelt – a new hero of Clinton’s -- as a example of “national leadership that was both decisive and innovative” on the environment.

"Our economy still runs primarily on fossil fuels and trying to change that will take strong leadership,” she said. But "we do not have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.” 

Instead, she said moving to a greener economy will create jobs  and help make “America the clean energy super-power of the 21st Century.”

Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, thought Clinton hit it out of the park. “You saw her tonight, coming to our organization and really leaning in to this issue to make it clear how much she cares about it,” he told reporters after her speech. “She’s always been committed on it, and she’s voted right very consistently, but with this audience, she’s now making whole comments and focusing on this.” 

But nowhere did Clinton mention Keystone, the controversial issue she has shied away from as she weighs another bid for the White House. Clinton has come under fire for that evasion, but says she can’t comment on it while the project makes its way through a State Department review process.

In his introductory remarks, Karpinski praised the recent defeat in the Senate of a bill to approve what he called the "dirty and dangerous" pipeline sponsored by Landrieu. But Karpinski said he didn’t have a problem with Clinton’s support for Landrieu. “The Clinton and the Landrieu families have been friends going way way back,” he said, noting that plenty of other pals of his organization will raise money for members of the “Democratic team” they might not always agree with.

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As she did when appearing with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leader on economic populism, a month ago, Clinton took time to heap praise on Democratic leaders on the environment. Clinton called Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the Senate’s foremost climate hawk, her “friend” and looked at him in the audience to say, “Thank you for fighting the good fight, day in and day out.”

Clinton also touted Karpinski’s work and even gave a special shout out to Karpinski’s mother, who stood and gave a wave. “We need the LCV as much as we ever have,” Clinton said, ticking off several of the group’s key accomplishments over decades. The group is consistently one of the biggest spenders for Democrats in elections.

After her speech, Clinton sat at a table with Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer and several members of LCV’s board to eat and hear the rest of the program.

Could Clinton offer the leadership she kept calling for? Karpinski certainly hinted at it, making a joke about “the first Clinton administration” and referencing the Iowa caucuses, just over a year away.

Carol Browner, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, went even farther. “Hillary, wherever life takes you in the next few months, we know we can continue to count on you to raise your voice and your intellect in the effort to combat climate change,” Browner said. “And we hope you know you can count on us.”