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Who Has the Best Plan to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground?

by Travis Nichols

February 9, 2016

The Democratic primary has candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton racing to see who can take the stronger stance on fossil fuel extraction. Who are you siding with?

New Hampshire Presidential Primary Activities

©Andrew Lichtenstein/Greenpeace

While there’s plenty to discuss already this young election season, one of the most interesting developments has been the competition to see who has a better plan to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

By that I mean competition on the Democratic side. The Republicans, awash in Big Oil money, remain in denial they have a climate problem.

But, thankfully, our democracy is not yet completely captured by special interests, and both Democratic candidates realize that without strong commitments from the executive branch against supply-side carbon infrastructure — like coal mines in Wyoming, offshore oil rigs in the Gulf or Arctic, and seismic testing in the Atlantic — we’re all going to be in a whole lot of climate trouble.

Voters are making it clear that candidates’ commitment (or lack thereof) to a fossil-free future is a major litmus test for deciding who gets their vote.

New Hampshire voters rally for clean energy policies before the primary.

New Hampshire voters rally for clean energy policies before the primary.

Last week in New Hampshire, 350 Action asked Hillary Clinton if she would support a moratorium on fossil fuel extraction from public lands:

“Would you ban extraction on public lands?”

“Yeah, that’s a done deal.”

Hillary Clinton, in response to activists from 350 Action

Up until this moment, she hadn’t made a firm commitment, which is why it never hurts to ask.

The next day, Bernie Sanders reiterated his commitment to banning fossil fuels from public lands:

The Sanders Campaign later clarified, saying he was referring to the Keep It In the Ground Act, introduced in November.

Then yesterday, at a rally in Manchester, Secretary Clinton took it one step further, saying she opposed offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic:

See? It never hurts to ask!

Voters are speaking up, and candidates are responding in a big way.

On the Republican side … well, let’s give them some credit. Republicans Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have said they will listen to their constituents who are worried about climate change.

It’s a start!

It’s all good news, but it clearly isn’t enough. If we’re going to stave off the most severe effects of climate change, we need a president who can further Obama’s climate legacy and stop the government’s de facto endorsement of fossil fuels. It’s clear that a clean energy future is possible — the market has already decided, with less private money going into fossil fuels and heaps going into wind and solar — but we need a president in 2017 who can keep us on the right path.

The true test will be whether the candidates will develop detailed commit to stopping any new offshore oil coming from the Arctic, Atlantic, and the Gulf, as well as signing on to the #fixdemocracy pledge, which asks candidates to refuse money from fossil fuel companies.

President Obama also has a chance to show what climate leadership looks like off the campaign trail. On March 23, the Department of Interior plans to open up bidding on a new offshore oil lease in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the exact type of project that would lock us into decades of more of the same carbon pollution and climate-fueled superstorms. People around New Orleans plan to surround the Superdome to demand real changes in the energy economy that would not only help stop the worst effects of climate change, but also protect the critically endangered Gulf coast.

The rhetoric is there. Now we need the action.

New Hampshire primary-goers rally to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

New Hampshire primary-goers rally to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

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