(CNN) — Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper isn’t running away from his record on climate change. In fact, the 2020 candidate is so stridently standing by his record that he told CNN that he insists he would repeat his most famous gesture as a governor combating climate change — drinking fracking fluid in an effort to win trust from oil and gas executives — if it came to that in the White House.
“Yeah, if that is what it takes,” said Hickenlooper, who has faced questions over his oil and gas record, after being asked whether he would drink fracking fluid again. “We are talking about the future of the planet.”
Hickenlooper has faced questions, in Iowa and elsewhere, over his oil and gas record. Many progressives accuse the Colorado politician of being too close to the oil and gas industry, a charge the governor refutes by arguing he worked with the industry as a way to combat climate change in his state.
And in a move that may prove politically risky, Hickenlooper sought to burnish his pragmatic image by announcing last week his opposition to the Green New Deal, the sweeping Democratic proposal that would radically alter the United States’ approach to combating climate change.
‘We have to have dreams,’ but Green New Deal unfeasible, Hickenlooper says
“The Green New Deal sets us up for failure,” reads the title of his op-ed in the Washington Post. In the piece, Hickenlooper says he supports the “concept of a Green New Deal” but, “given the scope of the threat of global climate change,” he can’t back the proposal because the “resolution sets unachievable goals.”
The proposal calls for “meeting 100% of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” and “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency.”
The decision to come out against the Green New Deal sets Hickenlooper apart from much of the 2020 field, which is full of candidates saying they support the measure to come degree. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who is also running for the Democratic nomination, has said he doesn’t support the plan.
Hickenlooper said in an interview that “climate change is one of, if not the, defining issue of our time and we have to be focused like a laser,” implying that he believes the Green New Deal is not.
“I believe we have to have dreams and visions and we have to debate legislation. I have a fierce urgency to get things done. I am a dreamer, I can dream,” he said. “But I am also a doer, and I think, especially with climate change, what start with these things we can get done right away.”
Republicans have pilloried the plan and President Donald Trump told Fox Business that he doesn’t “want to knock it too much right now because I really hope they keep going forward with it” and that it becomes a 2020 issue.
With Democrats, the plan is popular. According to a Des Moines Register poll, 91% of likely caucus-goers in Iowa’s critical Democratic caucus say they favor a presidential candidate who supports the plan.
That may be why Hickenlooper is trying to both tout the Green New Deal — he is “invigorated by” it, he told CNN — while also raising questions about it.
“I’m going to guess that 90% or 95%, 99% of what’s in the Green New Deal, I will be happy to embrace,” he recently told an audience in New Hampshire.
‘You can drink it’
While governor of Colorado, Hickenlooper incentivized the use of wind and solar; he often talks about how, under his watch, two coal power plants were retired in exchange for wind and solar energy. He also allowed consumers to store their own energy from renewable sources.
But what has come to define Hickenlooper’s climate change record was his vocal support of fracking, the process in which a salty, watery substance is injected into shale rock formations in order to release natural gas. The fluid is extracted, and the natural gas is mined through the well.
The practice has been widely criticized and blamed for earthquakes and poor water quality in certain parts of the country.
When Hickenlooper testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about the practice in 2013, though, he was enthusiastic.
“You can drink it. We did drink it around the table, almost ritual-like, in a funny way,” Hickenlooper told the committee when he spoke about his efforts to regulate the industry. “It was a demonstration. … They’ve invested millions of dollars in what is a benign fluid in every sense.”
The comment, even then, got a rise out of people. Sen. Al Franken jokingly asked Hickenlooper whether the practice was part of an occult practice.
“No,” Hickenlooper said. “There were no religious overtures.”
To Hickenlooper, the entire episode was about gaining trust, something he believes he did and would do again.
“I don’t think I made a mistake drinking the fracking fluid because it was a moment when the leaders of the oil and gas industry were going to trust me or they weren’t,” he told CNN. “They thought I was an environmentalist. They didn’t trust me.”
“The thing I regret,” he said with a laugh, “is I should have kept my mouth shut.”
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