Sierra Club endorses King, leaving Democrat Dill frustrated

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Posted Sept. 17, 2012, at 4:27 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 17, 2012, at 5:22 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Independent former Gov. Angus King has captured the endorsement of the Sierra Club in his U.S. Senate bid, and that has King’s Democratic rival, Cynthia Dill, upset that one of the nation’s best-known environmental organizations didn’t endorse her, a self-avowed environmentalist.

The Sierra Club announced its backing of King on Monday, citing in a statement his support for upholding the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, public investments in renewable energy forms such as wind and solar, increased fuel-efficiency standards, and enforcing labor and environmental protection standards in international trade agreements. The Sierra Club also highlighted King’s opposition to drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“Angus King will be a champion for the values and policies that the Sierra Club works for every day,” Becky Bartovics, who chairs Sierra Club Maine’s executive committee, said in the statement. “He knows that investing in a clean-energy future will create new jobs in Maine and across the U.S., and protect our planet for generations to come.”

But Dill doesn’t see it that way. In a three-page missive issued by her campaign Sunday, Dill says the Sierra Club has chosen a candidate with questionable environmental credentials.

King is a candidate ”who thinks hydrofracking is probably safe and who won’t make a firm decision on the destructive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” Dill says. “He also won’t support the feasibility study of a ‘gift’ of a national park land in northern Maine at a time when preserved common space can support a green economy and jobs.”

The Sierra Club has opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil from Canada to U.S. refineries, and has supported the idea of a national park in northern Maine. On hydrofracturing — a process in which fluids are injected at high pressures into bedrock to release natural gas — the Sierra Club has launched a campaign against the process, saying it shouldn’t be done if it can’t be done without polluting groundwater.

“Fossil fuels have no part in America’s energy future – coal, oil, and natural gas are literally poisoning us,” Sierra Club president Robin Mann says on that campaign’s website.

King, meanwhile, speaks enthusiastically about natural gas on the campaign trail. At a debate last week in South Portland, he called the energy source “America’s second chance” and said hydrofracturing can be done safely. On his website, King says hydrofracturing and the Keystone XL pipeline “should be subject to all appropriate environmental safeguards to protect both the American people and the American land.”

On a national park in northern Maine, King says on his website that he opposes the idea: “I’ve been a strong supporter of land conservation in Maine, but only when we retain control; a national park would not meet this standard,” his website reads.

Sierra Club Maine’s chapter director, Glen Brand, said the organization sent out candidate questionnaires and received responses only from King and Dill. The organization decided to endorse King after following up with interviews with the Senate contenders and consulting with the national Sierra Club organization.

“We recognize that we don’t agree on every single issue, but as we said in our statement, Angus King really does support the values and big-picture policies that the Sierra Club works for,” he said. “We believe that Angus King is going to be a strong champion for the environment, and we also look forward to working with him on issues that we both agree with and disagree with.”

While Dill lines up more closely with Sierra Club positions than King, the group’s decision to back the former governor is likely an assessment of who’s more likely to win, said Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington.

“That’s got to be a big blow for her,” he said of Dill. “That’s the kind of organization, if her campaign were going better, that I would expect her to be able to pick up an endorsement from.”

For the Sierra Club, Melcher said, backing King also has the benefit of allowing the organization to boast that it hasn’t backed only Democrats. “A lot of interest groups like to endorse someone who’s not in their usual party group,” he said.

And for King, Melcher said, the Sierra Club’s backing could open the door to support and funds from other environmental organizations and simplify his pitch to environmentally conscious voters who haven’t yet decided to vote for him.

Dill interpreted the Sierra Club’s pick of King as another snub from inside-the-beltway political groups, likening it to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s reluctance to support her Senate bid.

“In the final analysis, I don’t need environmental endorsements to verify that I am an environmentalist. I always have been,” she said. “I don’t need D.C. insiders to validate my progressive, Democratic Party beliefs and credentials. I live them every day.”

Brand said the Sierra Club’s endorsement of King “has nothing to do with the other candidates. This is an endorsement of Angus King.”

For his part, King said in a statement accepting the group’s endorsement that he and the Sierra Club support “a ‘Made-in-America’ policy which will keep our energy dollars from going to places like the Middle East.”

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