Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday she opposes construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, breaking her longstanding silence over the construction of a project assailed by environmentalists as a threat to the planet's climate.
The Democratic presidential candidate said she decided to speak out after concluding that the ongoing debate over whether the pipeline should be built had become a distraction to larger efforts to fight climate change "and unfortunately, from my perspective, one that interferes with our ability to move forward to deal with the other issues. Therefore I oppose it."
The former secretary of state had previously said she shouldn't take a position on the issue, because she didn't want to interfere with the Obama administration as it considers whether to allow construction of a pipeline that would transport oil from Canada's tar sands to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
The announcement was viewed with disappointment in Canada, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said as recently as last month that he was confident the next U.S. president would approve the project.
"This is not a debate between Canada and the U.S.," said Stephen Lecce, a spokesman for Harper. "We know the American people support the project. We will not engage in presidential primary debates."
Less reluctant was Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who said on Twitter that Clinton's decision proves she "favors environmental extremists over U.S. jobs."
Spurred on by environmental activists and liberals who play a key role in the Democratic primaries and vigorously oppose the pipeline project, Clinton had expressed impatience in recent weeks over the Obama administration's drawn-out deliberations. Campaign events in New Hampshire and Maine last week drew activists who held signs that read "I'm Ready for Hillary to say no KXL."
Clinton announced her decision moments after Pope Francis arrived in Washington at the start of a closely watched visit to the United States. Her opposition came in response to a question from a young woman attending Clinton's forum on prescription drugs.
"I was in a unique position having been secretary of state ... not wanting to interfere with ongoing decision making," Clinton said. "I thought this would be decided by now and therefore I could say whether I agree or disagree. But it hasn't been decided and now I think now I've got a responsibility to you and other voters who ask me about this."
Clinton's main rivals for the Democratic nomination have long opposed the project. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has surpassed Clinton in some polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, said in a statement he was "glad that Secretary Clinton finally has made a decision and I welcome her opposition to the pipeline. Clearly it would be absurd to encourage the extraction and transportation of some of the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet."
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who trails Clinton and Sanders by a wide margin in polls, used the moment to criticize the Democratic front-runner, saying her late-breaking opposition to Keystone is akin to how she arrived at her positions on gay marriage, offering driver's licenses for people not living in the country legally and the Syrian refugee crisis.
"On issue after issue," O'Malley said in a statement, "Secretary Clinton has followed — not forged — public opinion. Leadership is about stating where you stand on critical issues, regardless of how they poll or focus group."
Clinton said she would roll out a plan aimed at fighting climate change in a few days and noted proposals released earlier in the campaign that would bolster solar energy and produce more renewable energy.
She said the nation had "a lot of work to do" and that shifting to more renewable energy would create jobs.
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