Obama Brings On Anti-Keystone Advisor, But Doesn’t Seem to Want His Advice

An anonymous White House aide is assuring reporters this morning that President Obama’s new special adviser, Keystone XL opponent John Podesta, will “recuse himself” from the Keystone XL decision. The question for conservationists is: Uh, why? This isn’t a Supreme Court decision—there are no conflict-of-interest rules here. If President Obama values John Podesta’s advice on every other issue, why is he choosing to turn a deaf ear if Podesta urges him to reject Keystone XL? 

A proven environmental leader

John Podesta via Center for American Progress flickr
John Podesta via Center for American Progress Flickr
John Podesta is immensely respected and experienced. In his current role as the head of the progressive think-tank Center for American Progress, he and CAP have taken stances on a wide array of issues, including health care, climate change, immigration, crime and many others. Indeed, it is likely that Podesta’s well thought-out and informed views on a variety of positions are exactly the reason he was brought into the White House.

Podesta, a long time supporter of climate issues, has been outspoken against the Keystone pipeline and a strong and well-reasoned friend to the environment and wildlife. Podesta played a critical role in shaping President Clinton’s environmental record while serving as Clinton’s chief of staff. As the founder of the Center for America Progress, he has maintained climate change as a top priority for the organization. In a Politico op-ed after October’s government shutdown, Podesta called for more national parks and wildlife refuges saying, “Elected leaders should take swift action to open new parks, wildlife refuges, monuments and recreation and wilderness areas for the enjoyment of the public instead of slashing budgets, laying off rangers and closing parks.”

Silencing a voice critical on Keystone

It is, however, Podesta’s position, against the Keystone pipeline that has the oil industry up-in-arms. In a 2010 speech Podesta gave at a conference in Canada, he said,

Setting a goal of lowering oil sands emissions to come into line with conventional oil production is the wrong goal. Oil sands can’t simply be as good as conventional oil. We need to reduce fossil fuel use and accelerate the transition to cleaner technologies, in the transportation sector and elsewhere…unconventional sources of fossil fuels cannot be our energy future

Protesters carry an inflatable Keystone Xl pipeline around the White House during the Nov. 6th rally. (Photo: Marine Jaouen)
Protesters carry an inflatable pipeline around the White House. (Photo: Marine Jaouen)

President Obama has given the Keystone Pipeline a test to pass: will the pipeline seriously exacerbate the issue of climate change? To help answer this question, why would Obama choose to silence someone who has valuable knowledge and experience in environmental issues? Podesta understands the extreme threat of climate change and has made it clear that Keystone fails the President’s climate test.

Conservationists have voiced their irritation over Podesta’s recusal. “This is outrageous,” said 350.org founder Bill McKibben. “The whole Keystone XL review process has been riddled with egregious conflicts of interest. Here’s someone who actually doesn’t take money from oil companies—and he has to recuse himself?” It is extremely discouraging that Podesta won’t be involved with the Keystone decision and it’s hard to see this as anything other than another special favor for Keystone supporters.

Podesta understands the “all of the above” climate strategy and the need to choose clean energy over dirty fuels.  As President Obama moves through a second term with a focus on climate, it is important that he has an emboldened climate leader supporting him within his administration- and even more important that Obama actually listens to what he has to say. With a variety of important environmental and climate decisions under consideration, Obama cannot afford to shutout a valuable climate voice.

Take Action Button  Take action now to help protect the climate and America’s wildlife by speaking out against dirty tar sands.