The Audacity of John Podesta

He’s driving the White House’s go-it-alone climate strategy, but will any of it stick after the president is gone?

This illustration can only be used with the Ben Geman article that originally ran in the 11/22/2014 issue of National Journal magazine. 
Robert Carter
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Ben Geman
Nov. 21, 2014, midnight

On Septem­ber 4 of this year, John Podesta took the stage at the Man­dalay Bay Casino on the Las Ve­gas strip. The wiry 65-year-old was there for Harry Re­id’s an­nu­al en­ergy con­fer­ence, where green-tech-in­dustry play­ers, en­vir­on­ment­al­ists, and politi­cians gath­er to talk about the agenda they wish Wash­ing­ton would pur­sue.

It was a fa­mil­i­ar scene for Podesta. For years, Re­id’s event has been co­sponsored by the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress, a group Podesta launched in 2003 to give the Left some policy and ad­vocacy muscle on par with the con­ser­vat­ive Her­it­age Found­a­tion.

At the lectern this year, though, Podesta was ap­pear­ing not as CAP’s founder or as a vet­er­an of pro­gress­ive policy-mak­ing. He was speak­ing as coun­selor to Pres­id­ent Obama and the main force be­hind one the most ag­gress­ive policy strategies this White House has de­ployed.

His ad­dress was work­man­like. A brief­ing, really. Something no one would ever con­fuse with the speech-mak­ing of his pres­id­en­tial bosses — Obama and, be­fore him, Bill Clin­ton, to whom Podesta was chief of staff. In 10 densely packed minutes of dis­course about White House en­ergy and cli­mate policies, Podesta re­peatedly glanced at his notes and blew right past chances to set up ap­plause lines. Yet the per­form­ance was im­press­ive in an­oth­er way: as a re­view of the breadth of Obama’s second-term cli­mate-change agenda.

The En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency is at the cen­ter of that agenda, with its con­tro­ver­sial rule to lim­it car­bon pol­lu­tion from coal-fired power plants, but the strategy is much broad­er than that. The past year has brought a rat-tat-tat burst of en­vir­on­ment­al policy ini­ti­at­ives and re­ports from agen­cies that span the gov­ern­ment: the Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment De­part­ment, the Coun­cil of Eco­nom­ic Ad­visers, FEMA, and oth­ers. In­ter­na­tion­ally, mid-Novem­ber brought a sur­prise joint an­nounce­ment with China on car­bon emis­sions, the fruit of months of care­ful ne­go­ti­ations with Chinese of­fi­cials. It’s all part of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stated in­tent to go around Con­gress on everything from en­ergy to im­mig­ra­tion. And Podesta is el­bow-deep in it.

“John has a tre­mend­ous un­der­stand­ing of how to make things hap­pen, and how to make things work in an ad­min­is­tra­tion and from the perch of the White House,” says Todd Stern, the State De­part­ment cli­mate en­voy, who worked with Podesta in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion and later as a seni­or fel­low at CAP.

In­deed, the de­gree to which Podesta has been en­trus­ted with mak­ing things hap­pen has re­vived the Re­pub­lic­an cri­ti­cism that Obama has a pen­chant for hand­ing lots of power to people who aren’t vet­ted by or re­spons­ive to Con­gress. “The last thing Amer­ic­ans want now is an­oth­er un­ac­count­able ‘czar’ who goes around Con­gress and the pub­lic to push ex­treme red tape that des­troys more jobs and makes it even harder for our eco­nomy to grow,” says Sen. John Bar­rasso of Wyom­ing, who is part of the GOP’s Sen­ate lead­er­ship team.

John Podesta moderates a discussion during a climate-change forum at the National Academy of Sciences in August. (Pete Marovich/Getty Images) Pete Marovich/Getty Images

John Podesta mod­er­ates a dis­cus­sion dur­ing a cli­mate-change for­um at the Na­tion­al Academy of Sci­ences in Au­gust. (Pete Marovich/Getty Im­ages)Podesta un­doubtedly has been am­bi­tious, his ap­proach both force­ful and de­lib­er­ate. And he’s brought to the cli­mate agenda a level of in­side clout that has been miss­ing at least since former en­ergy and cli­mate czar Car­ol Brown­er left in early 2011. But wheth­er he has cre­ated policy that is dur­able — reg­u­la­tions and ini­ti­at­ives not eas­ily un­wound by a freshly anoin­ted GOP Con­gress or, after 2016, a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ent — is far less cer­tain. The White House knows this and is ra­cing to get its new EPA rule well-enough rooted in the eco­nomy be­fore Obama’s term ends that any at­tempt to yank it up later would be pro­hib­it­ively dif­fi­cult.

Podesta is on the clock, too. He signed on for a one-year tour that wraps up at the end of 2014. An­oth­er polit­ic­al chal­lenge already beck­ons: He has long had deep ties to Hil­lary Clin­ton, and a source close to her con­firms that he’s be­ing con­sidered for a seni­or role in her likely 2016 cam­paign. Podesta has said he might stay with the ad­min­is­tra­tion through Obama’s State of the Uni­on ad­dress in early 2015. But he isn’t deny­ing that a ma­jor role with Clin­ton’s cam­paign may await. “If she runs, as I hope she will, I will do whatever she asks me to do, but right now she has not made a de­cision to run,” Podesta told a Bloomberg journ­al­ist in a mid-Novem­ber in­ter­view that aired on the PBS pro­gramCharlie Rose. Asked if he has had talks with Clin­ton about a cam­paign role, Podesta replied, “I talk with her from time to time,” and then broke in­to a grin.

Maybe that’s why, stand­ing on that stage in Ve­gas, Podesta soun­ded like a man in a hurry. “We need all levels of gov­ern­ment, we need all levels of the eco­nomy pulling to­geth­er to re­duce emis­sions, to build re­si­li­ence, to de­ploy more clean en­ergy, to in­vest in en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, to build more re­si­li­ent in­fra­struc­ture, and to plan for cli­mate im­pacts that are already here and ones that we know are on their way,” Podesta said.

“This,” he said, “is an all-hands-on-deck mo­ment.”

IT TOOK A LONG TIME for Obama to get Podesta on board. Dur­ing its first term, the ad­min­is­tra­tion moved with a polit­ic­al cau­tion on cli­mate change that dis­ap­poin­ted act­iv­ists. Planned EPA rules for power-plant emis­sions lan­guished. Ma­jor cli­mate le­gis­la­tion fell apart in the Sen­ate in 2010.

The White House did take some big steps on the is­sue. It im­posed much tough­er auto mileage rules and pumped roughly $90 bil­lion in stim­u­lus fund­ing and in­cent­ives in­to low-car­bon en­ergy and oth­er green pro­grams — moves the pres­id­ent has taken pains to high­light. “Right now, Amer­ica gen­er­ates more clean en­ergy than ever be­fore, thanks in part to the in­vest­ments we made in the Re­cov­ery Act,” Obama said at a League of Con­ser­va­tion Voters din­ner in June. Then he paused, and ad­ded: “You re­mem­ber that old Re­cov­ery Act. [It] was the largest in­vest­ment in green en­ergy and tech­no­logy in U.S. his­tory.” Still, Obama ac­com­plished far less than the green move­ment had hoped, and many in the act­iv­ist com­munity blame the team that sur­roun­ded the pres­id­ent in his first term. “Rahm Emanuel was no John Podesta,” says one en­vir­on­ment­al-move­ment vet­er­an, con­vinced that the pres­id­ent’s ori­gin­al chief of staff kept cli­mate on the back burn­er.

In­siders cred­it Podesta with en­sur­ing that cli­mate policy hasn’t got­ten blown off course.

Everything shif­ted after Obama’s reelec­tion. In June of 2013, the White House re­leased a broad cli­mate policy blue­print, ac­com­pan­ied by what was con­sidered a ma­jor speech ded­ic­ated solely to glob­al warm­ing. In it, the pres­id­ent com­mit­ted to im­pos­ing the long-awaited man­dat­ory car­bon-pol­lu­tion stand­ards on coal-fired power plants, which are the coun­try’s largest source of un­checked emis­sions. The plan also called for new strategies for cut­ting emis­sions of meth­ane and hy­dro­fluoro­car­bons, both po­tent plan­et-warm­ing gases. Oth­er parts of the strategy in­cluded stepped-up work with the private sec­tor and loc­al gov­ern­ments on en­ergy-ef­fi­cient build­ings; a com­mit­ment to stronger in­ter­na­tion­al ef­forts with China and oth­er coun­tries; and a ma­jor, mul­tia­gency fo­cus on help­ing com­munit­ies harden their de­fenses against the ef­fects of cli­mate change.

The White House had by then de­cided it needed to pur­sue a go-it-alone ap­proach on policy in gen­er­al and would ag­gress­ively em­ploy ex­ec­ut­ive or­ders to by­pass a Con­gress that was in­tent on yield­ing no ground, on any is­sue. To help the White House see this through (and re­cov­er from a botched health care law rol­lout), Chief of Staff Denis Mc­Donough, a CAP alum, urged Podesta to come aboard. He agreed, but only to a short post­ing, which would in­clude a strong fo­cus on cli­mate.

“He prob­ably re­cog­nized that Pres­id­ent Obama needed ex­actly the tal­ents and skills that he could bring,” says Al Gore, former vice pres­id­ent and a lead­ing U.S. voice in sup­port of ac­tion to curb cli­mate change. “I think he has made a tre­mend­ous dif­fer­ence. I don’t think it, I know it.”

Gore spoke to Na­tion­al Journ­al in an over­hauled ware­house space in the Brook­lyn Navy Yard, where he was sta­ging his an­nu­al “24 Hours of Real­ity” mul­ti­me­dia broad­cast on cli­mate change in mid-Septem­ber. Shortly after the in­ter­view, Podesta would ap­pear on the broad­cast via video to pre­view an­oth­er cli­mate ini­ti­at­ive, which turned out to in­clude an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der weav­ing “cli­mate re­si­li­ence” — that is, the abil­ity to with­stand the con­sequences of cli­mate change — in­to U.S. in­ter­na­tion­al de­vel­op­ment aid.

“We laid out a lot in June of 2013, and John has been driv­ing every­body … across the gov­ern­ment to make sure that we are ex­ecut­ing on that,” says Dan Utech, a seni­or White House cli­mate policy aide. He cred­its Podesta with push­ing for­ward the ma­jor pil­lars of the second-term plan, in­clud­ing the power-plant rules and a strategy on meth­ane pol­lu­tion, but says Podesta has gone fur­ther, too. “I think he said, ‘Look, the plan is great and that is job No. 1, but let’s look for ways to in­crease am­bi­tion, to do even more any­where that we can do that.’ And so he really chal­lenged every­body here at the White House who works on these is­sues, every­body across the Cab­in­et that has a part of these is­sues, to think about what are ad­di­tion­al things we can do, what are ways we can either do ad­di­tion­al policy steps from here or en­gage with the private sec­tor.”

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Utech, speak­ing in the Eis­en­hower Ex­ec­ut­ive Of­fice Build­ing next to the White House, ticks off sev­er­al ex­amples of ways that Podesta has driv­en a mus­cu­lar im­ple­ment­a­tion of the June 2013 plan or gone bey­ond it. There’s the suite of com­mit­ments on sol­ar power the White House se­cured in May, from af­ford­able-hous­ing pro­viders as well as cor­por­ate be­hemoths such as Wal-Mart. And the “Cli­mate Ac­tion Cham­pi­ons” com­pet­i­tion to help as many as 15 tri­bal and loc­al gov­ern­ments battle glob­al warm­ing.

Plus, Podesta’s fin­ger­prints are on the White House push to em­phas­ize what ad­voc­ates say will be the large eco­nom­ic costs of fail­ing to stem emis­sions. That ef­fort has yiel­ded a widely pub­li­cized “cost of in­ac­tion” re­port by the White House Coun­cil of Eco­nom­ic Ad­visers and, more re­cently, speeches by Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Jack Lew and White House budget chief Shaun Donovan.

“John has made those mes­sages come to the fore be­cause he has brought all of the ad­min­is­tra­tion to­geth­er to un­der­stand the full breadth of the chal­lenge,” EPA Ad­min­is­trat­or Gina Mc­Carthy says.

But bey­ond any one ini­ti­at­ive, ad­min­is­tra­tion in­siders cred­it Podesta with en­sur­ing that cli­mate policy hasn’t got­ten blown off course by the churn of the news cycle — or by the oth­er parts of his own White House port­fo­lio. Over the past few months, Podesta has been in the room for high-level meet­ings on Ebola and IS­IS, and in late Septem­ber he led the U.S. del­eg­a­tion to Afgh­anistan for the del­ic­ate power trans­fer to the new pres­id­ent, Ashraf Gh­ani. But the pace of cli­mate-change ini­ti­at­ives has re­mained brisk non­ethe­less.

“The de­cision to bring him in, I think, has had a pro­nounced ef­fect in terms of con­tinu­ing to drive through times when there are oth­er is­sues that are on the pres­id­ent’s plate,” says Demo­crat­ic Sen. Shel­don White­house of Rhode Is­land, a self-de­scribed “cli­mate hawk” who was among the law­makers who wanted more from Obama’s first term.

President Obama and Podesta walk to the Oval Office after returning from a meeting at the Pentagon. (Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images) Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images

Pres­id­ent Obama and Podesta walk to the Oval Of­fice after re­turn­ing from a meet­ing at the Pentagon. (Den­nis Brack-Pool/Getty Im­ages)Sev­er­al people in­ter­viewed for this story made the same point about Podesta’s abil­ity to keep the gears turn­ing on cli­mate policy, even as oth­er crises flare.

Mc­Carthy, who speaks fre­quently with Podesta, says Obama has been clear with his team that he wants tack­ling cli­mate change to be part of his pres­id­en­tial leg­acy. “John has not let any­body in the ad­min­is­tra­tion for­get that,” she tells me.

IT IS ONE THING to an­nounce new policies, and quite an­oth­er to see them rolled out na­tion­wide. The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s vari­ous en­ergy and en­vir­on­ment­al pro­grams now face a chal­lenge great­er than the com­pet­i­tion for Obama’s at­ten­tion — they face a Con­gress that will be run by Re­pub­lic­ans who have vowed to un­wind the pres­id­ent’s ef­forts.

Con­sider the most sweep­ing and con­tro­ver­sial piece of the second-term cli­mate plan: car­bon-emis­sions stand­ards for power plants. On Podesta’s watch, EPA met its June dead­line to re­lease a draft of the new rule. That was cru­cial to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s at­tempt to get the reg­u­la­tions im­ple­men­ted be­fore Obama moves out of the White House. If the rule is fi­nal­ized next June as planned, that sets in mo­tion a timeline for states to start sub­mit­ting plans in June of 2016 ex­plain­ing how they will com­ply.

Already, though, in­com­ing Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell is prom­ising to throw up road­b­locks. In an in­ter­view with the Lex­ing­ton Her­ald-Lead­er after Re­pub­lic­ans de­feated enough Demo­crats to se­cure con­trol of the next Sen­ate, Mc­Con­nell said a top pri­or­ity is “to try to do whatever I can to get the [En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency] reined in.” Some in­com­ing GOP sen­at­ors have echoed him. “We’ve been picked as a loser, and I’m not go­ing to stand for it,” said Rep. Shel­ley Moore Capito of West Vir­gin­ia, who will shift from the House to the Sen­ate in the next Con­gress.

The White House is push­ing the bounds of what’s achiev­able without Con­gress.

Mc­Con­nell has signaled that he will seek to thwart EPA reg­u­la­tions with re­stric­tions, or “riders,” at­tached to spend­ing bills. And Ok­lahoma Re­pub­lic­an Sen. James In­hofe, who calls cli­mate change a “hoax,” will re­gain the gavel of the Sen­ate’s En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, giv­ing him a plat­form from which to at­tack White House policy as well.

New con­gres­sion­al battles over cli­mate and en­ergy policy have already be­gun. Earli­er this week, the Sen­ate nar­rowly re­jec­ted le­gis­la­tion to force ap­prov­al of the con­tro­ver­sial Key­stone XL oil sands pipeline, a bill the White House had re­peatedly bashed, ar­guing that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s years-long re­view should be al­lowed to play out. That fight is sure to re­sume next year; the GOP’s midterm elec­tion gains cre­ated a pro-pipeline fili­buster-proof ma­jor­ity in the Sen­ate, and the pres­id­ent has hin­ted that he would veto such le­gis­la­tion if it passes. (Podesta op­poses Key­stone, but ac­cord­ing to the White House he told Mc­Donough last Decem­ber that he would not get in­volved in the fight while work­ing for Obama.)

But when it comes to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cli­mate agenda, the White House says it’s not yield­ing to the newly power­ful Re­pub­lic­ans, es­pe­cially on EPA’s rule to cut power-plant pol­lu­tion. “The pres­id­ent is fully com­mit­ted to im­ple­ment­ing his Cli­mate Ac­tion Plan, which uses long-stand­ing ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­it­ies to cut car­bon pol­lu­tion, build re­si­li­ence in Amer­ic­an com­munit­ies already feel­ing the im­pacts of cli­mate change, and to lead on the in­ter­na­tion­al stage,” the White House said in a state­ment the week after the midterm elec­tions. “We will con­tin­ue to move for­ward on this vi­tal is­sue,” the White House ad­ded. “We’re con­fid­ent we can pre­vail.” It’s un­likely that Re­pub­lic­ans will be able to over­come a pres­id­en­tial veto, if it comes to that.

An­oth­er part of the loom­ing battle with Re­pub­lic­ans will cen­ter on a re­lated fo­cus of Podesta’s ten­ure: in­ter­na­tion­al cli­mate policy, in­clud­ing new co­oper­a­tion with China, the world’s biggest green­house-gas pol­luter. (The United States is No. 2.) This month, while Obama was in China for meet­ings with Pres­id­ent Xi Jin­ping, the White House an­nounced ma­jor new pledges from each side. For the first time, Beijing offered a dead­line — 2030 — for a peak in its soar­ing car­bon emis­sions, and both sides ex­pressed hope that China could reach the goal even soon­er. Amer­ica offered a pledge to slash its emis­sions by 26 per­cent to 28 per­cent by 2025 re­l­at­ive to 2005 levels, go­ing bey­ond the ex­ist­ing pledge of a 17 per­cent cut by 2020. China also agreed to dra­mat­ic­ally ex­pand its use of re­new­able and nuc­le­ar en­ergy. The two na­tions ex­pressed hope that the pledges would “in­ject mo­mentum” in­to the of­ten-rocky United Na­tions ne­go­ti­ations aimed at fi­nal­iz­ing a new glob­al cli­mate pact in Par­is late next year.

The sur­prise deal marked a win for Podesta, who was deeply in­volved in months of talks, and for Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry, who has made cli­mate change a fo­cus at State. But Re­pub­lic­ans im­me­di­ately panned it. Rep. Fred Up­ton, the Michigan Re­pub­lic­an who leads the power­ful House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, called the agree­ment lop­sided in fa­vor of China, where emis­sions will keep climb­ing. “Just when we are fi­nally get­ting back on firmer eco­nom­ic foot­ing, thanks in large part to our game-chan­ging en­ergy boom, a lame-duck pres­id­ent is work­ing to stack the deck against Amer­ic­an jobs, wage in­creases, and af­ford­able en­ergy,” he said in a state­ment.

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PODESTA’S AL­LIES like to talk about him in ways that call to mind Demo­crats’ fa­vor­ite TV drama: The West Wing.

“He was ac­tu­ally mak­ing de­cisions as you’re walk­ing down the hall­ways,” says cli­mate act­iv­ist Brad John­son, who once worked for CAP’s polit­ic­al arm.

“You can have these in­cred­ibly in­tense, pro­duct­ive, really tight en­coun­ters with him where he sort of can flip an is­sue and point the per­son he is en­ga­ging with in a really new, pro­duct­ive, and cre­at­ive dir­ec­tion,” says Peter Og­den, who was chief of staff at CAP un­der Podesta and is now a seni­or fel­low on cli­mate and en­ergy at the think tank.

But the same civics text­books brought to life on the hit show re­veal the lim­its of Podesta’s power. The White House is push­ing the bounds of what’s achiev­able without Con­gress. Its res­ult­ant policies are nar­row­er, and cer­tainly less dur­able, than what ma­jor le­gis­la­tion would al­low. That’s one reas­on the cli­mate agenda Podesta is rush­ing to carry out doesn’t con­tain sev­er­al big-tick­et things that many act­iv­ists — Podesta among them — want.

(Illustration by Joe McKendry) Joe McKendry

(Il­lus­tra­tion by Joe McKendry)In his 2008 book, The Power of Pro­gress, which calls for a post-Bush pro­gress­ive re­sur­gence on a suite of is­sues, Podesta lays out an ar­ray of cli­mate and en­ergy policy goals. One of the big­gies — much tough­er mileage rules for cars — has already been im­ple­men­ted by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. But two oth­er ma­jor ideas are polit­ic­ally moribund. A bill to cre­ate a na­tion­al cap-and-trade pro­gram to lim­it green­house-gas emis­sions fell apart in the Sen­ate in 2010. (Oth­er ways to im­pose an ex­pli­cit cost on car­bon emis­sions, such as a tax or fee, would also re­quire le­gis­la­tion, an im­possible pro­spect these days.)

The oth­er goal once shared by Obama that’s now gath­er­ing dust is a na­tion­al “re­new­able-elec­tri­city stand­ard” that would force power com­pan­ies to sup­ply es­cal­at­ing amounts of elec­tri­city from such sources as wind and sol­ar en­ergy. That, too, has no fu­ture on Cap­it­ol Hill un­der GOP con­trol.

Al­though they can’t hold Podesta re­spons­ible for a Con­gress that won’t touch cli­mate le­gis­la­tion, some en­vir­on­ment­al­ists ar­gue that he’s pro­mot­ing a White House en­ergy strategy that it­self hurts the cli­mate agenda: the “all of the above” ap­proach that cheers do­mest­ic drilling. Podesta, like his boss, speaks en­thu­si­ast­ic­ally about the surge in U.S. nat­ur­al-gas and oil pro­duc­tion. He sup­ports the use of nat­ur­al gas, which pro­duces far less car­bon when burned than coal, as a tool to help lower emis­sions from the na­tion’s elec­tri­city pro­duc­tion. But he has also cham­pioned tough­er steps to pre­vent meth­ane leaks dur­ing the gas-de­vel­op­ment pro­cess.

How ag­gress­ively the ad­min­is­tra­tion ul­ti­mately pur­sues meth­ane curbs will be one ba­ro­met­er of Podesta’s in­flu­ence. As of mid-Novem­ber, EPA had not said wheth­er it would im­pose new reg­u­la­tions or go with a softer ap­proach based on vol­un­tary ef­forts. And even tough new reg­u­la­tions would not com­pletely bridge the gap between the White House and act­iv­ists over do­mest­ic drilling.

As his time in Obama’s White House winds down, Podesta is mak­ing the case that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has made last­ing changes to the na­tion’s en­ergy eco­nomy. The top­ic sur­faced when he ap­peared onCharlie Rose and fielded a ques­tion about wheth­er China would hold up its end of the new long-term emis­sions pact that he played a lead role in broker­ing. “I think that China does not take these un­der­tak­ings or com­mit­ments lightly,” he said. “It is hard to get them to make com­mit­ments, but once they make them, they are pretty good at keep­ing them.”

In the U.S., he ac­know­ledged, a fu­ture pres­id­ent could throw the car­bon-re­duc­tion pledge off course. But then he un­der­scored the value of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s over­all work on cli­mate reg­u­la­tions, fuel eco­nomy and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, and re­new­able power: “This is set­ting off a cycle of real in­nov­a­tion and in­vest­ment in Amer­ica,” Podesta said. “So, we can meet [our pledge] as long as the next pres­id­ent doesn’t re­verse course and throw the car in­to re­verse.”

Whatever the fu­ture holds, it is clear that Podesta has already had an out­sized ef­fect. En­vir­on­ment­al­ist and Demo­crat­ic strategist Glenn Hurow­itz, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the firm Cata­pult, de­scribes Podesta’s time at the White House in epochal terms. “You can di­vide the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s en­vir­on­ment­al policy-mak­ing in­to BP and AP,” he says. “Be­fore Podesta and After Podesta.”

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