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Hillary Clinton opposes Keystone pipeline.

Hillary Clinton finally came out Tuesday against building the Keystone XL oil pipeline, ending her long refusal to take a stand on the most divisive environmental controversy of Barack Obama’s presidency — while thrilling greens and handing her potential GOP opponents a potentially powerful weapon. Clinton’s rejection of Keystone as “a distraction from important work we have to do on climate change,” delivered at a campaign event in Iowa, comes a month after she took another left turn on the environment by opposing offshore drilling in the Arctic. Her move elated activists already preparing for Obama to reject the Canada-to-Texas heavy oil pipeline, more than seven years after its developer first applied for a permit.

As secretary of state, Clinton led the early chapters of the administration’s still-ongoing review of the pipeline proposal — and galvanized a nationwide activist campaign against Keystone with off-the-cuff remarks in 2010 that her department was “inclined” to approve the $8 billion-plus project. Republicans have since turned Keystone into a political symbol of their own, blasting Obama for repeatedly postponing the decision past the 2012 and 2014 elections. Clinton’s GOP opponents leapt to slam her on Tuesday, a sign that her appeal to the Democratic base won’t come without a cost should she become the party’s nominee.

Clinton “finally says what we already knew,” Jeb Bush tweeted after her Iowa remarks. “She favors environmental extremists over U.S. jobs.” Clinton’s nearly half-decade of silence on Keystone ended thanks to an activist who consulted in advance with 350.org, the upstart green group that has targeted her relentlessly on the pipeline. Bill McKibben, the 350.org co-founder and godfather of the anti-pipeline movement, heaped particular praise on her after warning her about “mistrust” earlier this year. “I think she’s really coming to understand that climate is going to be a defining issue of this election,” McKibben told POLITICO. “And maybe, if you also look at her stand on Arctic drilling, she’s concluding that the most visible way to make quick progress is to keep carbon in the ground.” Tiernan Sittenfeld, a senior vice president at the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, also cited Clinton’s opposition to Arctic drilling in calling the candidate’s Keystone move “inspiring and exciting.” Rather than blasting Clinton outright, the oil and gas industry’s top lobbying group lamented what chief Jack Gerard called “a missed opportunity to seize the true potential of our energy renaissance.” “It is most unfortunate for American workers and consumers that she has joined the forces of delay and denial,” Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said of Clinton. TransCanada, the Calgary-based corporation behind the plan to ship upwards of 800,000 barrels a day of heavy Canadian oil south to U.S. refineries, also sidestepped any criticism of Clinton. “Our focus remains on securing a permit to build Keystone XL,” company spokesman Davis Sheremata said in a statement. “The fundamental argument for Keystone XL has been and remains — the U.S. imports millions of barrels of oil every day, so where do Americans want their oil to come from? Do they want it from Iran and Venezuela — where American values of freedom and democracy are not shared — or do they want Canadian and American crude oil transported through Keystone XL.” “I can’t wait too much longer. The pipeline’s lengthy review remains in its final phase after five massive environmental studies and multiple lawsuits in the state of Nebraska, where anti-pipeline landowners have long challenged the legality of Keystone’s route through sensitive farmland.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, speaking before Clinton’s remarks, said Tuesday that the review remains ongoing, and “once the State Department has put forward a recommendation the president will consider it and he’ll make a decision.” After years of oil-industry confidence that Keystone would eventually get built, however, even many of the pipeline’s supporters are openly resigned to its ultimate rejection by Obama. Clinton’s opposition on Tuesday only gave more hope to environmentalists who already are looking past what they expect will be the president’s denial of a permit for the pipeline to cross the U.S. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, also indicated he favored the pipeline during remarks in 2012 that still appear in pro-Keystone television ads. But Clinton’s opposition does not come as a surprise to those who paid attention to her campaign chairman, John Podesta, an environmentalist and former senior aide in the Obama White House who opposes Keystone and has argued the project would increase the carbon emissions that spur global warming.

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