John Podesta, prominent Democratic strategist and former chief of staff to Bill Clinton, will now be formally joining the White House, as was announced yesterday. According to the Washington Post, Podesta's portfolio in this new role would be "broad" and would include climate change, executive actions, and the implementation of the health care law.
Podesta is well known for his role as founder of the Center for American Progress, which recently celebrated its ten year anniversary. CAP has very close ties with the Obama administration, and there's a considerable interchange of staff. Over the past few years, CAP has tended to toe the White House line on economic and foreign policy issues while often criticizing the administration from the left on social issues and environmental issues.
John Podesta has been an outspoken opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline. Yesterday, Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker reported on Podesta's past statements on Keystone and the wider issue of climate change:
Podesta told me earlier this year that his case against Keystone was twofold. One, he believed the weight of the evidence suggested that the pipeline would indeed accelerate the production of oil from the oil sands and increase greenhouse-gas emissions over the long term. “There’s a lot of oil flowing from there, right? They’re not gonna stop doing that. But do we want to facilitate supercharging that?” he said. “That’s the question. And the answer to that I think is no, because of the climate impact.”Lest you find that too promising, POLITICO reported yesterday that John Podesta will be recusing himself from the Keystone XL issue. He's supposed to be advising the president on climate change but can't touch the issue of building a large pipeline through the middle of the country to bring dirty tar sands oil from Canada to the export market in the Gulf, a pipeline opposed by the nation's leading climate scientists? That doesn't seem to bode well to me.
He was emphatic that Obama’s own test cannot be met. “I think he should not approve it,” Podesta said. “I’m of the view that you just can’t meet the standard now that Obama set out: Does it or does it not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution? What are the net effects? And I think a fair review of that would say the net effects are big and they’re negative.”
In his interview with me, Podesta also argued that if Obama wanted to get anything accomplished in a second term, the President had to be expansive in his use of executive power. Climate-change policy, Podesta believes, is fertile ground. Without any involvement from Congress, Obama’s E.P.A. can implement regulations to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, and the President could set a new course on energy policy by cancelling Keystone.
“We don’t know at the end of the day how you change the national and global mindset,” Podesta told me. “But if Obama did say no, what does that do to finally force some tough decision-making into the climate world? It could have a fairly significant impact on people’s understanding about what the problem is and the cost of adapting to a warming planet.” For Podesta, a decision by Obama to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline could be a turning point in the larger fight against global warming—a moment, he said, that could begin “to reverse” the effects of climate change.
Have any other members of the administration recused themselves from issues like that before? It seems like a rather strange move.