President Barack Obama is bringing former Clinton White House chief of staff, John Podesta, into his inner circle as a White House counselor. The move is reportedly part of an effort to straighten out the troubled Obamacare rollout. However, it’s also worth noting that Podesta, who until recently headed a liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, has been a critic of the oil sands and the Keystone XL pipeline.
In June 2010, I watched Podesta make candid and scathing remarks about the environmental impacts of oil sands extraction, which he called “polluting, destructive, and expensive.” Speaking in front of Canadian diplomats and others at an industry-sponsored discussion on the “greening” of the oil sands, he dismissed the whole notion as “more PR than reality.” That day, Podesta did not explicitly call on Obama to reject the pipeline, but he did several times advocate against a “hurried” review by the State Department (this was back in 2010 — three years later, it’s far to say the process has not been hurried.)
As for the Keystone XL review process: the State Department is still working on a final environmental impact statement that will say, among other things, whether the administration believes that the project meets Obama’s stated criterion of not “significantly exacerbating” carbon pollution. (Draft reports have said the pipeline will not significantly increase oil sands production because of the capacity of rail to carry crude oil.) The question is whether the final report will alter that conclusion. Some pipeline supporters expect the report to come by the end of this year, with Obama’s decision on the permit for the cross-border pipeline a few months later. However, the State Department’s inspector general has been investigating allegations of conflict of interest by an outside company that was contracted to write the environmental impact statement, and some observers expect that the internal probe could lead to a delay of the final environmental impact report into 2014.