When the White House announced Tuesday morning that John Podesta would be signing on to advise the president on energy and climate, activists celebrated the return of anti-Keystone environmentalist as the game-changer that could inspire the Obama administration to halt the Keystone XL pipeline from tapping Canada's oil sands.
Then, the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza broke the news that Podesta would be recusing himself from working on the Keystone decision. “His views on this are well-known,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “There are people who have been working on this for a number of years and who are looking at this from a variety of perspectives and want to make sure that this policy outcome reflects the president's views and can approach it in an impartial way.”
Earnest later clarified that "recuse" isn't the best word for what happened, explaining that "there’s no suggestion of some sort of conflict of interest, financial or otherwise, as it relates to Mr. Podesta’s opinions, views and positions on the Keystone pipeline" -- the decision, he said, was based solely on Podesta's inability to remain impartial and his lack of involvement in the lengthy review process thus far.
Anti-Keystone activists, though, see it differently. CREDO, a national progressive organization that has been working to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, launched a petition urging the White House not to silence Podesta, which as of this posting has over 30,000 signatures:
Advisors or contractors with a financial stake in the outcome of Keystone XL – like TransCanada-linked contractor ERM – should recuse themselves from the White House decision on the tar sands pipeline. But a key advisor like John Podesta who has a fact-based track record opposing climate change and raising concerns about Keystone XL should not be silenced now that he has accepted the position of White House counselor. The White House should encourage John Podesta to provide his best counsel in deliberations on the presidential permit TransCanada requires to build Keystone XL.
As a small consolation, Lizza pointed out that "if Obama approves the project, he will have to do so knowing that he is contradicting the assessment of his new climate-change adviser."