By Zack Colman - 04/11/13 08:38 PM EDT
A group of House Democrats pressed the White House to reject the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline during a closed-door meeting with President Obama’s top climate adviser.
“I think some messages were delivered. The occasion was used to deliver some concerns,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told reporters after the Thursday meeting between White House aide Heather Zichal and the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC), which Connolly co-chairs.
While lawmakers were willing to give a play-by-play of other energy and climate topics addressed during the meeting, they were tight-lipped on Keystone.
“We’ll keep that in the room,” Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said.
Obama has the final say on Keystone’s northern leg because it crosses into Canada.
Republicans and centrist Democrats, with the backing of industry and some unions, want Obama to greenlight Keystone. They say the project would bring jobs and oil from an ally.
But liberals — who comprise the SEEC’s membership — want the president to nix it. They, along with green and progressive groups, say Keystone would accelerate oil sands production that would harm the climate — a point the coalition's members pressed often, according to those in attendance.
“We’re a group of members in SEEC that’s very concerned about climate change, and we want to encourage the administration to push the envelope and take what actions they can,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said the legislative goals Zichal mentioned might need to take a backseat until Obama decides on Keystone.
“I think that will set the tone of what can and cannot happen. I don’t think anybody knows what the president is going to do on that — well, the president probably knows,” Cleaver said.
Still, many SEEC members were optimistic about passing energy legislation. They viewed the meeting with Zichal as a sign that the White House is ready to work the congressional front.
“This was more an opportunity for the White House to send their environmental leader here with members of Congress who are very engaged. And we’re looking for ways to work with the White House and our Republican colleagues. There are opportunities here,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said.
Zichal and the White House have been busy promoting a few specific plans that would require congressional approval. The endeavors surfaced prominently in Thursday’s meeting, and were well received by SEEC members.
Chief among those proposals is a competitive state grant program to encourage energy efficiency and electric grid upgrades. That $200 million initiative, which is based on the “Race to the Top” education program, made it into the White House budget released Wednesday.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who co-chairs SEEC, said Zichal believed the political circumstances were ripe for passing energy efficiency legislation.
“She used energy efficiency as an example of where we could find some common ground with Republicans,” he said. “That seems to me to be an area where Republicans and Democrats can agree.”
Zichal also championed an “Energy Security Trust” proposed by Obama. The plan would put a portion of offshore oil-and-gas revenues into a basic research fund for alternative fuels and vehicles.
But Republicans would likely ask to expand oil-and-gas drilling as a condition for approving the fund, for which the White House is seeking $2 billion through 10 years.
The White House, however, has said it won’t expand drilling to wrest GOP support for the plan.
The GOP-controlled House that has resisted much of Obama’s energy agenda will likely be a roadblock for many of the president’s plans.
Noting that, lawmakers who attended the meeting said Zichal also discussed administrative options for addressing climate change and Obama’s energy priorities.
Those generally include implementing Environmental Protection Agency air pollution regulations, rolling out clean-energy projects on federal lands and devoting Energy Department research funding to clean energy.