A dozen young climate change activists expecting a discussion with White House staffers Friday instead got a meeting with President Obama himself.
The surprise meeting came hours ahead of the April 15 to 18 Power Shift 2011 conference, which is slated to include criticism of a White House that some activists allege has not been aggressive enough on climate change.
“Young people got to sit down at a table in the West Wing and have a meeting with the president and share what our priorities are and talk about solutions, and we talked about the impact of fossil fuels in our communities, and how they can wreak havoc,” Hight said onstage at the conference of largely college-age activists.
She said there were differences with Obama but also “points of convergence.”
“The president challenged us. He said ‘I can’t do this alone,’” Hight said, noting Obama cited the need to organize and challenge their elected officials.
“So we said, what do you think we’re doing here? There’s 10,000 of us actually,” said Hight, a former Obama campaign staffer, onstage at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center Friday night.
Obama met with the group for roughly 15 minutes, swinging by what was a longer meeting between the group and White House staff.
Hight told CNN that the advocates expressed their concern about White House support for nuclear energy. “The president said it's something he's going to continue to support, so we have a difference of opinion on that,” she told the news service.
White House spokesman Clark Stevens said in a statement that "The President appreciated the opportunity to discuss the administration's record on clean energy as well as his ongoing focus to build a 21st century clean energy economy with Power Shift leadership."
Maura Cowley, the other co-director of the Energy Action Coalition, said the meeting was promising despite some differences with the White House.
“We saw the community organizer side of President Obama come out in this meeting,” she told CNN. “I think we're hoping it's the beginning of a dialogue.”
In a statement, the Energy Action Coalition said, “The young people expressed concerns with aspects of Obama's energy policy, particularly ongoing reliance on dirty energy sources like coal, nuclear, and natural gas.
“The young leaders described the meeting as positive and expressed excitement about working with the Administration to transition America to 100% clean energy and protect the Clean Air Act.”
Hight, in the statement, praised Obama for meeting with the group, and noted, “We are thankful he fought to save the Clean Air Act.”
“That's the man we elected and we need him to stand strong and stand up to big polluters and safeguard America's public health,” she said.
Capitol Hill Republicans and some Democrats are seeking to block regulation of greenhouse gases, and slow or stop some other air pollution rules as well.
Obama’s various energy policies have garnered a mix of praise and criticism from activists.
For instance, administration has boosted fuel economy standards and support for renewable power projects, but faced criticism over issues including support for nuclear power and a recent plan to expand coal leasing in Wyoming.
This post was updated at 10:59 a.m.