Climate activists are lining up behind the never-say-die campaign to draft Elizabeth Warren for a 2016 bid.
Ready for Warren, a group pushing the senator to enter the presidential race, plans to soon unveil "Environmental Activists for Warren," National Journal has learned. The launch expected to take place later this month is the latest sign that environmentalists fear that Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic frontrunner who announced her candidacy on Sunday, won't take a strong stand on the issues they care most about.
More than 1,000 volunteers already have signed on to participate, Ready for Warren says, culled from employees, donors, and volunteers for Washington's most politically powerful green groups, including the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, and Environmental Defense Fund along with progressive organizations such as 350.org, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace USA. (None of the green groups or their political arms have made an endorsement of any candidate in the 2016 race.)
"This is one of the largest supporter groups within Ready for Warren, because combating climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our country over the next four years and beyond," said Erica Sagrans, the campaign manager for Ready for Warren.
Warren is best known as an anti-Wall Street crusader, not an environmental advocate. But her sharp criticism of the Keystone XL pipeline and disdain for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that environmentalists worry could weaken environmental protections, has won the senator admiration from climate activists.
"Senator Elizabeth Warren has shown outspoken and intelligent leadership," said Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA who penned a letter along with labor activist Larry Cohen last month backing a Warren 2016 bid. "Having a candidate like this run in the Democratic presidential primaries could only help to raise the quality of debate on America's most pressing social and environmental issues."
Warren's continued insistence that she is not running for president has not dissuaded potential supporters or environmentalists. And greens hope that throwing their weight behind the draft Warren campaign will pressure Clinton to carve out positions more in line with the climate movement.
"We're not just going to anoint Hillary Clinton. We want to see a fight for this and we want our issues brought to the forefront," said Anthony Rogers-Wright, a Ready for Warren volunteer and policy director for the nonprofit Environmental Action.
There are early indications that Warren also could be gearing up to take on a higher profile in the environmental world.
She joined the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this year and will deliver a keynote address Monday at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference of environmental and labor activists.
When Warren takes the stage, environmentalists will be listening carefully.
"We want to hear definitive environmental policies from Warren and Clinton," Rogers-Wright said. "I think Warren would be a better candidate. But there are still questions she needs to answer."
That uncertainty speaks to a central challenge that climate activists face in the run-up to the 2016 election. Environmentalists want a Democrat to win the White House since Republican contenders show little interest in tackling climate change. But they fear that action to address rising carbon emissions may not be a top priority for any candidate.
Global warming ranks notoriously low on the list of national voter priorities, taking a back seat to issues deemed more pressing by the American public like the economy and national security.
Hoping to push climate to the top of the agenda, progressive environmental groups, including 350 Action and Friends of the Earth, have criticized Clinton for her silence on Keystone. 350 is planning a demonstration outside Clinton's New York headquarters Monday calling on her to clarify her position on the pipeline.
Many of the biggest names in the environmental world in Washington, including the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, have been careful not to outwardly criticize Clinton, and have offered praise for her environmental track record.
But even those groups have started to push Clinton to outline a climate agenda.
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune called on Clinton to "lay out her plan to grow the American clean energy economy," following the announcement of her 2016 bid on Sunday. The League of Conservation voters launched a petition calling on Clinton to make climate change a campaign priority.
Clinton has long been accused of having cozy ties with corporate America, and some activists say that Warren, with her fierce populist agenda, would be more willing to challenge the oil and gas industry.
"You can't really separate what's happening with the climate from the general trend towards concentration of wealth in this country and worldwide," said Marc Weiss, a liberal donor and environmental activist. "They go hand in hand, and I think Senator Warren is articulating that and I think she would bring that to the discussion if she runs for president."
Environmental Activists for Warren will publicize support within the climate movement for a Warren 2016 bid and work to bring more activists into the fold, through organizing events and penning op-eds.
In the meantime, environmentalists ready for a Warren run will spread the word any way they can.
Weiss recalls thanking Warren for calling for action on climate change and telling her she could count on his support if she decides to run for president during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill last May.
Mike Carberry, a volunteer for Run Warren Run and longtime climate activist, makes sure to tout Warren's green record when he speaks at events for the draft Warren campaign in Iowa.
"I see myself as trying to recruit people and spread the word that she would be a good environmental candidate," Carberry said. "She does not equivocate. She does not waffle. She does not triangulate."
This story has been updated with additional information.