The progressive group MoveOn.org is pressing Hillary Clinton to come out against the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline, warning that she could lose Democratic voters if she doesn't take a stand against the project.
"Hillary Clinton's refusal to take a position raises the possibility that she is worse on climate change than 80 percent of the incoming Senate's Democratic Caucus," said Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action.
She warned: "If she's considering a run for president and wants the support of the party's base, Hillary Clinton should clarify that she opposes this dirty and dangerous pipeline."
Clinton, the Democratic front-runner if she decides to enter the White House race, has repeatedly declined to offer an opinion on Keystone.
"I can't really talk about it because I was in the office that has primary responsibility for making the decision. I don't want to inject myself into what is a continuing process or to in any way undermine my successor as he tries to make this decision," she said at an event in Canada last month, referring to John Kerry, who followed Clinton as secretary of State.
But Bill Snape, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, said there's no formal restriction preventing Clinton from offering an opinion on the pipeline. "She's a private citizen now," said Snape, whose group opposes Keystone. "Nothing in Clinton's secretary of State job would prevent her from taking a policy position at this point."
The State Department is heading the federal review of the project, but the final decision is expected to come from the West Wing.
Polling shows that Democrats are divided over Keystone. A Pew Research Center poll released Nov. 12 showed that 43 percent of Democrats surveyed currently favor construction, compared with 54 percent in March of 2013. Overall, Pew's survey found that 59 percent of the public supports the project.
In contrast to Clinton, outgoing Maryland governor and potential 2016 Democratic White House candidate Martin O'Malley is bashing the pipeline. "It's time to reject the either/or and smallball choices facing us on energy. I hope the Senate rejects #KeystoneXL--it's too much carbon dioxide, and not nearly enough jobs (only about 50 jobs permanent once construction is finished)," he said on Facebook ahead of a Senate vote on the project earlier this week.
Among the other potential 2016 challengers to Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont strongly opposes Keystone. But former Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, who has just announced an exploratory committee for a White House run, voted in favor of the pipeline in 2012.
The MoveOn.org statement comes two days after legislation to approve TransCanada's pipeline, which would bring crude oil from Canadian oil-sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries, failed by a single vote in the Senate. Thirty-nine Democrats and two independents aligned with their caucus (Sanders and Sen. Angus King) voted against the bill Tuesday, while 14 Democrats supported it.
Bill McKibben, a prominent climate-change activist and leading Keystone foe, supported MoveOn.org's push to get Clinton to take a stand.