By Zack Colman - 06/20/13 05:40 PM EDT
More than 100 former campaign staffers for President Obama on Thursday urged him to reject the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.
“Mr. President, we are just a few of the millions of young people across the country who are frightened at the prospect of runaway climate change,” the 145 ex-staffers said in an open letter to the president. “For so long you have been the source of our hope and inspiration. Please don’t disappoint us. Reject Keystone XL.”
The message comes as green groups and billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer are intensifying their pressure campaign against the proposed Canada-to-Texas pipeline.
“It’s very hard to be a hero and speak up on what he describes as being the biggest challenge facing the world and then do something that’s contradictory to that in a major way when everyone all over the world is paying attention,” Steyer told reporters in Washington.
Obama’s ex-campaign staffers echoed that point in their letter.
“One of the reasons we came to work for you in the first place is because we trust you understand how big this challenge is,” they wrote.
Still, some have questioned why activists are drawing the line at Keystone, saying efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions at power plants would have a far greater impact on reducing climate change.
An Obama adviser said this week that the administration is working to finalize emissions rules for new coal-fired plants — the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) missed an April deadline to do so — and some observers believe the administration might impose limits on existing power plants, too.
Green groups have rejected the notion that they should give Obama a free pass on Keystone if he pursues more aggressive carbon pollution regulations. They argue that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have reached dangerous levels, and the globe cannot afford to take on more emissions.
“You can’t take big steps forward … and take this big step backward,” League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said Thursday at the news conference.
Steyer said axing Keystone would send a message about climate policy while also keeping carbon out of the air.
“Turning down this pipeline from a political, policy, symbolic standpoint will be galvanizing. There is no other issue that will say to the American people and the people of the world, we understand we need to make a change. That’s what this issue is about,” Steyer told reporters.
But various polls show most Americans want to build the pipeline, which its boosters say will provide jobs and enhance U.S. energy security. A majority of lawmakers in both the House and the Senate also back the project.
“Today a billionaire activist tried to tell President Obama that he should have more sway than the overwhelming majority of Americans who support the Keystone XL pipeline. But as these opponents ramp up their activism, support for Keystone XL from the American public just continues to grow,” Matt Dempsey, a spokesman with industry-backed organization Oil Sands Fact Check, said in a statement.