If U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is elected president, she would quickly move to rejoin the Paris climate accord and restore the Clean Power Plan and gas-mileage standards.
The Minnesota Democrat backs limits on carbon emissions and is a cosponsor of the Green New Deal — though she has called it “aspirational.”
But with family roots on the Iron Range and a history of deep rural support, Klobuchar doesn’t always see eye to eye with the influential environmental wing of her party.
She earned a 96% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and a perfect 2018 rating from the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund. Yet those groups and others are disappointed by some facets of her environmental record: the St. Croix Crossing bridge, gray wolf protections and copper-nickel mining, an unfolding and contentious issue.
“While the senator has voted well on climate and broadly on environmental proposals, we have not seen her play a leadership role on environmental issues in general,” said Margaret Levin, state director of the Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter. “She has in some cases worked to weaken environmental safeguards.”
Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs for the LCV, commended Klobuchar for “really trying to lift up that climate change is not a distant threat” and her commitment to “undoing the horrific damage” done by the Trump administration. The group gave her a 100% score for votes in 2018 that included steps to block invasive species and provide money for conservation efforts.
Still, Sittenfeld said, the LCV hopes Klobuchar “will also publicly oppose mining within the majestic Boundary Waters watershed and speak more to the importance of protecting all of Minnesota’s cherished lands and wildlife.”
Klobuchar “has been solid” on funding for Great Lakes restoration and has a strong voting record, said Deanna White, state director for Clean Water Action, but the group has “pushed her to be a little tougher” on other issues.
Levin cited an ongoing debate over whether Minnesota’s gray wolves should be removed from threatened status under the Endangered Species Act, which could lead to a resumption of hunting. Klobuchar agrees with proponents of delisting, who say the wolf population has grown enough to be considered recovered.
The Department of Natural Resources estimates there are 2,423 wolves in Minnesota.
A regulation proposed in March by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would delist gray wolves and let states manage them. They “are no longer in danger of extinction,” it said.
In 2011, the federal government ended wolves’ protected status in Minnesota for a third time. Recreational hunts soon followed. Federal judges intervened to put wolves back on the list, most recently in 2014.
A bill Klobuchar co-sponsored in 2017 included a provision that would bar future legal challenges to wolves’ delisting.
That language frustrated Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity. It undermines the Endangered Species Act and “the notion that ordinary citizens can’t challenge and hold their government accountable,” he said.
Hartl understands Klobuchar’s sensitivity to rural Minnesota, where wolves can threaten livestock. Still, he said, “there is a right and wrong thing to do when it comes to preserving fundamental values like judicial review.”
Dr. Maureen Hackett, founder of the advocacy group Howling for Wolves, believes Klobuchar’s position is rooted in politics. She called the wolf debate “a social wedge issue” that helps attract voters who “feel the feds are telling us what to do” on mining and other Iron Range concerns.
It’s appropriate to weigh politics when dealing with such a divisive issue, said Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. He won a 1999 case defending a wolf-management plan for the state attorney general’s office.
“I have no reason to doubt [Klobuchar’s] sincere motivation to do things for her constituencies of hunters, farmers and people raising cattle,” he said. “She really likes to be viewed as a bipartisan leader, and that’s a good thing.”
Engwall supported Klobuchar’s bid to curtail courts’ role. Delisting proponents “feel like the issue is being taken away on a basis that doesn’t have to do with common sense,” he said.
Klobuchar spokeswoman Carlie Waibel said in a written statement that the senator “has long believed that the preferred way to delist the gray wolf is for the Fish and Wildlife Service to do it through the rulemaking process.”
St. Croix Crossing
The St. Croix Crossing bridge linking Minnesota and Wisconsin opened two years ago this month, ending a dispute over the four-lane span’s effects on the environment and a scenic waterway.
Klobuchar led the fight for an act of Congress, enacted in 2012, that allowed an exemption to the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act so construction could proceed on the replacement for the 1931 Stillwater Lift Bridge.
The National Park Service objected to the plan; so did her mentor, former Vice President Walter Mondale, a co-author of the 1968 rivers law.
Her bill included plans to preserve the river bluff and restore parkland, but Levin said the Sierra Club was “deeply disappointed” that the exemption was approved. “There was never a serious look at a design that would have minimized the environmental impact,” she said.
Waibel said Klobuchar has “no regrets about her work to get the bridge done.”
At last week’s presidential debate in Detroit, Klobuchar introduced herself as “a granddaughter of an iron ore miner.”
It’s a staple of her stump speech, a key part of her identity and a component of her appeal to Republican-leaning northeast Minnesota and, by extension, to rural white voters elsewhere who helped elect Donald Trump in 2016.
Klobuchar hasn’t explicitly endorsed PolyMet’s proposed copper-nickel mine near Babbitt, Minn., and has criticized the one Twin Metals plans just outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. But her support for a land swap between PolyMet and the federal government — now being challenged — is seen by some opponents, including the Sierra Club’s Levin, as tacit approval.
Blaine Miller-McFeeley, senior legislative representative for Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, believes that Klobuchar’s qualms about Twin Metals are growing. “She’s made it clear that she doesn’t trust the Trump administration,” he said. “We were always hopeful that this is where she would land. It was just taking a little longer than we hoped.”
Earthjustice represents the Izaak Walton League and the Wilderness Society in a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s 2018 decision to reinstate expired mineral leases held by Twin Metals.
Waibel said that Klobuchar “continues to have serious concerns about this project being so close to the Boundary Waters” and does not believe the Trump administration “will move forward in good faith to protect the environment given their track record.”
On another project that alarms some environmentalists — Enbridge’s Line 3 crude-oil pipeline from Canada across northern Minnesota — the senator backs Gov. Tim Walz’s view, her state director Ben Hill said in a statement. Like the DFL governor, she wants “a thorough environmental and scientific review” before the state decides whether it should be built.
Klobuchar has potentially more clout in the Twin Metals battle: Unlike the PolyMet project, much of its mine would be on federal land.
Jeremy Drucker of Save the Boundary Waters believes Klobuchar is frustrated with the administration and hopes she “will show strong leadership” by ensuring a thorough federal environmental review.
Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer and former Republican who lost to Sen. Tina Smith in last year’s Democratic primary — and criticized her record on mining — is less optimistic.
He wishes Klobuchar would wage a public fight against copper-nickel mines. “She has the ability to stand up to these people,” he said. “She has the ability to say no.”