Senator Hillary Clinton speaks with a crowd of supporters during an environmental forum at Seacoast Media Group on Tuesday.
PORTSMOUTH — As she explained her policies on energy independence and global climate change, Sen. Hillary Clinton said her keystone Strategic Energy Fund would be financed in part through "a deal I would offer the oil companies."
The deal is blunt: Invest in alternative energy sources or find your windfall profits taxed.
It's unclear just how receptive the oil companies and other industries dependent on the fossil fuel economy will be to Clinton's offer — especially after saying she was "going after the oil companies." But it's an irresistible political line for Democratic voters, especially after two national elections that put two Texas oil men in charge of national energy and environmental policy and who have seen oil company profits soar to record levels.
What wasn't in doubt with the Democratic presidential candidate's appearance at the energy and global climate change forum Tuesday was Clinton's desire to think equal parts big and small-step pragmatic — and not hesitate to use the bully pulpit of the presidency if she is elected to shake up the status quo. The initial goal is to get things started, "to develop momentum" for long-term change, Clinton told the Herald in an interview following Tuesday's Seacoast Media Group forum. Clinton's "Green Building Fund," which she announced at the event, is such a program. It's a $1 billion prod for state governments to promote wide-scale energy efficiency that could lead, according to the campaign estimates, to 50,000 "green collar" jobs — and stimulate innovation along the way. About 50,000 jobs is a drop in the bucket in a massive American economy, but Clinton's goal at the forum was to make the political and strategic case that energy independence and global warming are parts of a bigger transformational puzzle and are at heart pocketbook issues — the type of issues that could waken voters across the partisan divide.
Making the economic and national security cases for new energy and climate change policies will be necessary to lift these issues out of the niche status they retain in public opinion polls.
Andy Smith of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center said even after the rise in public awareness about the dangers of global warming, energy and environment issues barely register a pulse.
"This is typical because these are not in the minds of most voters," Smith said. "They are concerned with war and their own economic standing."
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter, whom Clinton mentioned at the forum, said that energy security was "the moral equivalent of war" but could not create a legacy of action — the result of low gas prices and even lower political will, Clinton noted.
What Clinton accented Tuesday is a developing fault line between Democratic and Republican presidential candidates for the 2008 primary and general election. When it comes to energy security and climate change, the proposals range from mostly staying the course with some modifications (the Republican consensus) to a dire gathering storm requiring what Clinton called a "united front" of action (the Democratic perspective).
"What we need is leadership to connect the dots," said Jan Pendlebury, the director of Concord-based N.H. Global Warming, about the difficulty of making policy comprehensible to voters. "Environmental issues are slow to happen and people still want to have hope that everything will turn out all right. I'm not sure if the American people are ready to make the sacrifices that will be needed. But we are already seeing how these issues are affecting the cost of food and impacting public health."
Complete coverage of the forum at: seacoastonline.com/clintonForum
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