A straight answer

Let’s simplify, shall we?

Does Hillary Clinton oppose fossil fuel development on public lands? A yes or no would go along way toward clearing up a murky policy position that has special relevance to Colorado in general and to the Western Slope in particular.

Clinton’s campaign recently refuted claims that she has ever called for a ban on fossil fuel extraction on federal lands. But following a Democratic Party debate in New Hampshire in February, some young anti-fracking activists with 350 Action captured her on video saying a ban on fossil fuels development on public lands was “a done deal.”

That was after Clinton explained that banning fracking outright was beyond the federal government’s authority. Asked to clarify what she meant by “done deal,” Clinton said, “...No future extraction.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce seized on that exchange to project what a ban on oil, gas and coal production on federal lands and waters would cost energy-rich states like Colorado.

Clinton’s campaign issued a statement accusing the chamber’s “Energy Accountability Series” report of “grossly mischaracterizing” her position and went on to explain that Clinton’s platform calls for reforming fossil fuel leasing to ensure taxpayers get a fair deal and for expanding renewable energy production on public lands.

That’s an amplification of a position paper she released in July that laid out a vision for the Interior Department to bolster the economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry and to make public lands an engine of the “Clean Energy Economy.”

But the campaign’s reaction to the controversy was all too familiar — too Clintonesque. If Clinton has changed her mind or wants to retract the “no future extraction” position she took early in the campaign, she should just say so. That would be a welcome development. Instead it looks like she’s trying to appeal to both extreme environmentalists and the ordinary Americans who depend on affordable energy. What are voters supposed to think when her campaign deflects and denies something she said?

We need a straight answer about one of the state’s most important economic drivers, especially to communities of the Western Slope. We need to know if she’ll stand up to 350.org and the rest of the “keep it in the ground” movement.

Even the White House science adviser in the Obama Administration concedes it’s unrealistic to halt fossil fuel extraction altogether. The reality is that we will need to rely on burning natural gas, nuclear energy and even outfitting coal plants with carbon capture technologies for some time.

At least Clinton has put herself in a position to be nitpicked. Trump hasn’t articulated a clear plan, sticking to big promises — like he’ll bring back coal jobs or establish energy independence — without much detail.

If both candidates are smart, they’ll stick to an “all of the above” strategy, including renewables, because that’s what it’s going to take to meet our energy demands. Let’s hope the debates offer some distinctions. Energy policy may be the issue that swings undecided voters in western Colorado.


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