Keystone Backers Alarmed by John Podesta’s Move to White House

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 24: Center for American Progress co-founder John Podesta moderates a panel discussion during a conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of the center at the Astor Ballroom of the St. Regis Hotel October 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. Former Clinton Administration Chief of Staff Podesta co-founded the liberal public policy research and advocacy organization as a think tank that rivals conservative policy groups, such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Amy Harder and Ben Geman
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Amy Harder Ben Geman
Dec. 10, 2013, 10:12 a.m.

Sen. John Ho­even, R-N.D., an out­spoken ad­voc­ate of the Key­stone XL pipeline, isn’t thrilled to hear that prom­in­ent Demo­crat­ic strategist John Podesta has form­ally joined Pres­id­ent Obama’s in­ner circle at the White House.

Podesta’s think tank, the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress, has been bat­tling the pro­posed pipeline, and Podesta him­self has been crit­ic­al of the pro­ject for years. 

“It cre­ates a con­cern,” Ho­even told Na­tion­al Journ­al in the Cap­it­ol.

“The White House has delayed this for now more than five years,” Ho­even said. “It looks to me if they can find a way to turn it down, that is what they are go­ing to do, which is why I am go­ing to con­tin­ue to do everything I can to put pres­sure on them to get them to ap­prove it.”

On the oth­er side of the aisle, Sen. Bar­bara Box­er, D-Cal­if., op­poses Key­stone and hailed Podesta’s de­cision to join the White House. But she down­played any link between Podesta’s pres­ence and Obama’s even­tu­al de­cision on the pipeline.

“When it comes to policy, the pres­id­ent sets the policy. The people he has around him carry it out and work with us to make sure that we carry it out. Really it is not about what John Podesta thinks about an is­sue, it’s more: how much John Podesta is go­ing to help this pres­id­ent cre­ate his leg­acy for a second term,” said Box­er, chair­wo­man of the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee.

“He has ex­per­i­ence, he knows how this place works, he has broad know­ledge on so many sub­jects,” Box­er told re­port­ers in the Cap­it­ol.

Dan Weiss, seni­or fel­low at CAP, warned on Twit­ter not to read too much in­to Podesta’s op­pos­i­tion to the pro­ject.  “Podesta op­poses Key­stone but he will be an hon­est broker,” Weiss said. 

The New York Times on Monday night first re­por­ted that Podesta, who was Pres­id­ent Clin­ton’s chief of staff, will work on the rol­lout of Obama’s troubled health care law and oth­er top­ics, in­clud­ing cli­mate change.

Three years ago in a speech to a con­fer­ence in Canada, Podesta spoke at length about why he’s crit­ic­al of the Key­stone XL pipeline and de­vel­op­ment of oil sands more gen­er­ally. The pipeline would carry oil from Canada’s tar sands to U.S. re­finer­ies on the Gulf Coast.

He said in or­der for coun­tries to re­duce their car­bon emis­sions by 80 per­cent by 2050, the goal shouldn’t be to just re­duce the car­bon foot­print of oil sands pro­duc­tion — which is en­ergy-in­tens­ive and pro­duces more green­house gases than tra­di­tion­al oil pro­duc­tion — it should be to get off oil al­to­geth­er.

“Set­ting a goal of lower­ing oil sands emis­sions to come in­to line with con­ven­tion­al oil pro­duc­tion is the wrong goal,” Podesta said. “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.”

His com­ments on cli­mate change as they re­late to Key­stone are par­tic­u­larly im­port­ant since Obama in June said he would only ap­prove the pipeline if it didn’t sig­ni­fic­antly ex­acer­bate glob­al warm­ing.

“We either rap­idly green the world’s en­gine of eco­nom­ic growth, or we suf­fer the con­sequences that are very dif­fi­cult to even fully com­pre­hend, in ad­di­tion to those we already tol­er­ate,” Podesta said. “Un­con­ven­tion­al sources of fossil fuels can­not be our en­ergy fu­ture,” Podesta said.

En­vir­on­ment­al groups cheered Podesta’s re­turn to the White House.

“John sees the in­trins­ic value of our pub­lic lands and forests, knows the danger of our re­li­ance on dirty fuels like tar sands, and re­cog­nizes cli­mate dis­rup­tion as one of the most press­ing chal­lenges of our time — and he’s taken ac­tion to find solu­tions,” said Si­erra Club Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or Mi­chael Brune.

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journ­al in Janu­ary 2012, Podesta and Tom Stey­er, a bil­lion­aire en­vir­on­ment­al­ist, soun­ded bullish on an­oth­er kind of un­con­ven­tion­al fossil fuel: nat­ur­al gas, which faces cri­ti­cism from many en­vir­on­ment­al groups in­clud­ing the Si­erra Club. The na­tion’s largest en­vir­on­ment­al group wants the U.S. to start wean­ing it­self off nat­ur­al gas today.

“After a four-dec­ade de­cline in oil pro­duc­tion, the U.S. is now pro­du­cing more than half of our oil do­mest­ic­ally,” Podesta and Stey­er wrote in The Journ­al. “This can free us from our ad­dic­tion to for­eign-sourced bar­rels, par­tic­u­larly if we util­ize our dra­mat­ic­ally lar­ger and cheap­er nat­ur­al-gas re­serves.”

“There are crit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment­al ques­tions as­so­ci­ated with de­vel­op­ing these re­sources, par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing meth­ane leak­age and wa­ter pol­lu­tion,” the two wrote. “Yet as long as we en­sure high reg­u­lat­ory stand­ards and stay away from the ris­ki­est and most pol­lut­ing of these activ­it­ies, we can safely as­semble a col­lec­tion of lower-car­bon, af­ford­able, and abund­ant do­mest­ic-en­ergy as­sets that will dra­mat­ic­ally im­prove our eco­nomy and our en­vir­on­ment.”

Stey­er and Podesta were crit­ic­al of be­com­ing more de­pend­ent on for­eign oil, a trend the Key­stone XL pipeline may fur­ther in­cent. “Our eco­nomy can go from be­ing weighed down by oil im­ports to soar­ing ahead, powered in­creas­ingly by do­mest­ic­ally pro­duced clean en­ergy, and en­ergy ser­vices and tech­no­logy,” they wrote.

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