Podesta to recuse himself from Keystone

Freshly minted White House counselor John Podesta will recuse himself from working on the approval process for the Keystone XL pipeline, an administration official told The New Yorker on Tuesday. 

“In discussions [with White House chief of staff] Denis [McDonough], John suggested that he not work on the Keystone Pipeline issue, in review at the State Department, given that the review is far along in the process and John’s views on this are well known,” the official said. “Denis agreed that was the best course of action.”

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The news will come as a welcome surprise to proponents of the pipeline, who fretted that Podesta’s appointment to the White House spelled doom for the proposed project. 

The Center for American Progress (CAP), the liberal think tank Podesta co-founded, has been a leading voice against the pipeline’s construction, arguing its environmental impact would be severe.

Earlier Tuesday, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), an advocate for Keystone, told the National Journal that Podesta’s appointment was a “concern.” 

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."

A tweet earlier Tuesday by Dan Weiss, a senior fellow at the CAP, foreshadowed that Podesta's influence on the pipeline would be limited.

"Podesta opposes Keystone, but he will be an honest broker," Weiss said. 

Still, White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested earlier in the day that Podesta would play a significant role in the administration’s environmental policy. 

“He will advise on a range of issues with a particular focus on issues of energy and climate change, but will obviously bring a lot of experience to bear,” Carney said.

As President Clinton’s chief of staff, Podesta was a chief advocate for executive actions intended to protect natural resources, including the designation of national monuments and the institution of a roadless rule designed to preserve national forest. 

Earlier this year, Podesta told The Washington Post that Obama’s “path to success” would come “through every single place that you can squeeze some authority which he has. That is where you’ve got to focus your attention and where you could spend your political capital.”

The White House also emphasized Tuesday that Podesta’s return back in the Obama administration would be limited to a single year — likely to quell suggestions that his influence could threaten other top staffers.

“One year only. That’s the agreement,” Carney said.