At this week’s presidential debate in Nevada, Sen. Amy Klobuchar doubled down on a particularly concerning position: that natural gas, a fossil fuel, is a “transitional fuel.” If you’ve been paying close attention to climate issues, you know that selling natural gas as a bridge fuel is an idea cooked up by the oil and gas industry.
The idea is that natural gas releases less carbon dioxide than coal, so it’s better for the environment — but carbon emissions are still carbon emissions. Even if you’re willing to set aside the carbon, however, natural gas also emits methane, the impacts of which a study released Wednesday found have been underestimated by up to 40 percent.
The natural gas issue is just the first of Klobuchar’s problems on the environment. On Wednesday, she said: “This is a crisis and a lot of [the candidates’] plans are very similar to get to carbon neutral by 2045, 2050, something like that.” This isn’t true. While the more moderate candidates’ plans — those of former Vice President Joe Biden, Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg — might be more similar, more progressive candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders have much more ambitious, and therefore effective, plans.
Klobuchar’s climate plan, among many other deficiencies, only calls for net zero emissions by 2050 without any interim goals like the ones set in the Warren and Sanders plans. In order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that we need to emit 45 percent less carbon dioxide by 2030, not just achieve decarbonization by 2050.
Meanwhile, some environmentalists in Klobuchar’s home state are troubled when they consider the senator’s record on environmental protection. Since 2010, Klobuchar has pushed to delist gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act several times. The most notable bill that she co-sponsored was a 2017 bill, dubbed by opponents as the “War on Wolves Act.” The bill would not only delist gray wolves from several Great Lakes states — a move that environmentalists decried — but also preclude judicial review of the decision. Each time the wolves have been delisted in Minnesota, they have been relisted by the courts; so this bill, rather conveniently, sought to remove that threat entirely.
In 2017, Klobuchar said in a statement that there was “strong evidence that the Endangered Species Act has been successful and the gray wolf should be delisted.” It’s true that the wolf population bounced back in her own state, but only after the wolves were relisted in 2014 due to a hunting push by Minnesota that diminished their population.
“[Klobuchar] hasn’t been a good friend of the Endangered Species Act,” said Barry Babcock, a historian and environmental advocate based in northern Minnesota. The 2017 bill, which never passed, was part of a larger conservative-lead effort to weaken the ESA. It’s a war that Donald Trump also started waging last year, and one that hunting and farming lobbies like the American Farm Bureau would love to win.
Hunting and farming interests are no stranger to Klobuchar, who has ties to both groups. She backed bills blocking the regulation of lead tackle and bullets, which have caused lead poisoning in animals, in 2013, 2015 and 2017. One of her biggest funders in the past and on this year’s campaign trail is agribusiness giant Cargill, which former Rep. Henry Waxman once called “the worst company in the world.” She even once won the endorsement of the traditionally conservative Minnesota Farm Bureau, which has in turn advised her on legislation. They also recently celebrated her vote to pass the environmentally disastrous United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Michelle Valadez, a Minnesotan environmental activist who runs a blog called Minnesota Wildlife, said that many of “the environmentalists here feel like she’s owned by big agriculture, the livestock industry, the mining industry — that’s where her dedication is, truly.” Valadez said she sees the wolf delisting efforts as in part due to Klobuchar’s ties to the agricultural industry, as well as to the mining interests in the state: A contentious copper-nickel mine proposed by mining company PolyMet for which Klobuchar helped facilitate a federal land transfer, for instance, is in a critical wolf habitat, according to environmental groups.
Copper-nickel mining, also known as sulfide mining, has never been done in the state, and poses a particularly grave risk for the sensitive environment. A report by Earthworks that studied 14 copper-nickel mines representing 89 percent of copper production in the U.S. found that all of them experienced some sort of accidental spill, polluting the surrounding waterways and earth.
Klobuchar’s dedication to mining interests is also apparent when it comes to her position on another contentious copper-nickel mining project by Twin Metals in northern Minnesota — a copper-nickel mine that other 2020 hopefuls, including Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, have opposed because of its proximity to Minnesota’s historic Boundary Waters. One of the last actions of the Obama administration was to ban this mine; a leaked email shows her displeasure with the ban. “When you guys leave and are out talking about a job message for rural America, I will be left with the mess and dealing with the actual jobs. But you guys sure got a good story in the New York Times,” she wrote at the time.
Klobuchar describes her support for the mines as a familial trait. She continually touts her grandfather’s career as a Minnesotan miner. And Twin Metals and PolyMet echo her rhetoric —or perhaps she echoes theirs — on the jobs the mines could bring: a few thousand, according to the two companies.
But others say that turning the northern part of the state over to mining interests would actually be detrimental to the state economy. “What you’re doing is you’re compromising tourism, compromising investments in other industries for a type of mining that has never been done in Minnesota before,” said Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota. “And that’s why this tie-in to the traditional way of life is such a crock of bull.”
The mining is a matter of environmental justice, too — the mining would likely release sulfate, which threatens wild rice that grows close to the proposed mines. Wild rice, or manoomin, is sacred to the Ojibwe who live in northern Minnesota.
In addition to mining, there’s yet another project that threatens the rice: a crude oil pipeline replacement sought by Enbridge Energy known as Line 3, which Babcock calls “our Keystone.”
Though Klobuchar hasn’t supported Line 3, she also hasn’t come out against the pipeline, which environmental protesters say will endanger human health and further entrench dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure. She said, instead, that she’s for a thorough environmental review — a statement that amounts to nothing but the status quo. And, when it comes to the environment, the status quo means extractive industries getting what they want.
Throughout the fights over mining and the pipeline in Minnesota, Klobuchar has shown a staunch unwillingness to change her position in the face of documented environmental risks. Environmental groups have been fighting against the PolyMet mine since 2012 at least, and Klobuchar has had the opportunity on the new campaign to reinvent herself. But the fact that she hasn’t done so deepens the censure she faces from local environmentalists.
“I just can’t vote for her,” said Babcock. “When you dedicate almost all your life, 50 years of your life fighting blood, sweat and tears to save special places like the Boundary Waters or an endangered and threatened species, and then people are telling you, ‘you gotta vote for this woman’ who stands against everything you’re for — I couldn’t live with myself.”