Meet the student who prompted Hillary Clinton to take a stance on an issue she’s avoided forever

For months, the political press has asked Hillary Clinton about her position on the Keystone XL Pipeline — to no avail.

On Tuesday, the Democratic presidential front-runner finally gave her answer — to a 19-year-old college student.

Clio Cullison, a student at Drake University in Iowa, stood up during a Clinton event Tuesday and asked her, point blank, whether she supported the construction of the pipeline.

Clinton had telegraphed that she might take a firm position soon. She decided to make that day Tuesday, saying she opposed the pipeline’s construction.

“I’ve got a responsibility to you and voters who ask me about this,” Clinton said. “I think its imperative that we look at the Keystone Pipeline as what I believe it is — a distraction from important work we have to do on climate change. And unfortunately from my perspective, one that interferes with our ability to move forward with all the other issues.”

“Therefore, I oppose it.”

The opposition to the pipeline has become a litmus test for environmentalists.

The proposed pipeline has been under review at the State Department since Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. It would bring oil from tar sands in Canada all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Critics say the pipeline would do irreparable environmental damage and conflict with President Barack Obama’s promises to curb emissions. Proponents say construction and maintenance will create jobs.

Cullison, a self-described climate activist, said she attended the event specifically to ask Clinton about the pipeline.

“It’s good for me to be informed as to where a potential president stands on those issues,” Cullison told Business Insider in a phone interview. “I could not in good faith vote for someone who did not oppose the Keystone pipeline.”

Cullison said that though she hasn’t made up her mind on which candidate she plans on supporting, she said she believed Clinton answered the question in a straightforward way.

“I think she was very genuine — I thought her answer was most likely planned, as she is a politician, but I think it was genuine,” Cullison said. “It is definitely a plus in the Hillary column for me as a voter.”

But the Drake student added that she did not think Clinton’s current climate plan — which proposes increasing renewable-energy sources and moving to incentivise solar-panel installation, among other points — goes far enough.

“Implementing solar panels is great. However, adding renewable energy is only half the solution,” Cullison said.

Clinton has long demurred when asked whether she supported the pipeline. As a candidate, she has said she would avoid taking a position until the review process ran its course. The former secretary of state’s silence — contrasted with the vocal opposition of Democratic rivals Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) — frustrated many climate activists.

But Clinton recently hinted that she may be close to opposing the pipeline, saying she could no longer wait for Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to make a decision.

Cullison told Business Insider that she plans on posing similar questions to Republican and Democratic presidential candidates as they pass through Iowa.

“I’m not afraid to do it anymore. I’d love to go talk to other people and ask more questions,” she said.

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