Clinton: America Can Be Clean-Energy 'Superpower'

John Locher/AP

 The U.S. can become the "clean energy superpower of the 21st century," Hillary Clinton said Thursday, urging businesses and the government to build up the renewable sector.

"Climate change is the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face," the former secretary of State and likely 2016 Democratic front-runner said Thursday at Harry Reid's annual energy conference in Las Vegas. "The threat is real, and so is the opportunity … if we make the hard choices."

As expected, Clinton's keynote address at the National Clean Energy Summit didn't wade into much controversial territory. She offered support for President Obama's climate action plan and EPA rules that will regulate power-plant emissions and didn't delve into too many specifics of what a Clinton energy agenda might look like.

Instead, she talked up the opportunities for international climate agreements and the growth of the clean-energy economy at home. She chastised the "false choice debate" between the environment and the economy, saying that with the right tax incentives and policies to foster growth, there is great potential for renewables. She specifically mentioned energy efficiency retrofits for buildings—a hallmark of the Clinton Climate Initiative—as "the most overlooked opportunity in our country."

It wasn't all tried-and-true fodder for greens. Clinton did put her weight behind the natural-gas boom that has divided environmentalists, saying that the fuel offered environmental and economic payoffs with the right safeguards in place, a position she's taken in the past.

Specifically, she said, drillers needed to regulate leaks of methane, the potent greenhouse gas that is more powerful than carbon dioxide. She called for "smart regulations" to keep drilling safe, including "not to drill when the risks are too high."

She also didn't mention the Keystone XL pipeline, nor did it come up in a question-and-answer session with White House counselor John Podesta (whom Politico reported is rumored to be the top choice for Clinton's campaign chairman), although greens have been clamoring to hear her position on the controversial tar sands project.

A large part of Clinton's speech focused on foreign policy, including the need to secure a strong international agreement to combat climate change. Clinton dedicated a chapter of her State Department memoir Hard Choices to her work at the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, and she reiterated her call for a "strong agreement, applicable to all."

The odds of such an agreement, she said, were boosted by Obama's climate action plan, which she said would "show the world we are serious about meeting our obligations and show ... the U.S. can still do big things," putting the government in a position of leadership.

Clinton also came down hard on Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying again that she'd like to see European countries diversify their energy supply to become less reliant on Russian oil. Clinton made a trip to Ukraine as secretary of State to discuss energy independence, but she says there seems to be less movement in that direction than she'd like.

"If there's a sea change, it's at low tide," she said. "It hasn't quite got the momentum that I would like to see, but at least the conversation is much more serious."

Overall, Clinton said, the work being done in the U.S. to combat climate change needs to continue accelerating to ensure that the country would continue to lead on the world's stage.

"We cannot afford to cede leadership in this area," she said. "Our economic recovery, our efforts against climate change, our strategic position in the world all will improve if we can build a safe bridge to a clean-energy economy."

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