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Where do former Obama officials stand on Keystone XL?

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Former interior secretary Ken Salazar made waves Wednesday when he announced at the North American Prospect Expo in Houston that he supports approval of the Keystone XL pipeline because, he told the audience, “At the end of the day, we are going to be consuming that oil.”

“So is it better for us to get the oil from our good neighbor from the north, or to be bringing it from some place in the Middle East?” he said, in remarks first reported by the Web site FuelFix.

Salazar, who now works for the law firm WilmerHale's energy and clean tech group, is not the only Obama official to weigh in on the controversial project after leaving the administration. Here's an overview of where some of the president's top appointees and aides stand on the issue, and which ones are now paid to influence the outcome of TransCanada's permit application to build the pipeline.


Former national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon. Donilon told an Aspen Institute audience earlier this month that he "probably would" back it on energy security grounds.

Former national security adviser James L. Jones. In a call sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute in December 2011, Jones urged Obama to approve TransCanada's application quickly."In a tightly contested global economy, where securing energy resources is a national must, we should be able to act with speed and agility. And any threat to this project, by delay or otherwise, would constitute a significant setback," Jones told reporters, adding that stalling the project "will prolong the risk to our economy and our energy security" and "send the wrong message to job creators." Jones promoted oil and gas development before joining the Obama administration as president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy in 2008.

SKDKnickerbocker. The firm, whose managing director Anita Dunn served as President Obama's communications director in 2009, helped steer TransCanada's advertising campaign last year and in 2011. "SKDK is a well-known advertising and communications firm and they helped shape our advertising campaign in 2011 and 2013 to help counter the misinformation opponents of the Keystone XL proposal were spreading about TransCanada and the pipeline," TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard wrote in an e-mail. "They are not lobbyists; we have hired them for their communications and advertising expertise and we will continue to hire them and are proud of our association with them."

Assistant to the president and Cabinet secretary Broderick Johnson. Johnson, who served as a senior adviser on both Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaign, worked as a lobbyist for TransCanada on the pipeline in 2010 during his time at Bryan Cave LLP. He deregistered as a lobbyist in April 2011, and joined the White House two weeks ago.


Former Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol M. Browner. Browner said during a Washington Post Live panel discussion in November 2011 "it would be my preference that this pipeline did not go forward" because the country had yet to adopt legislation that established a national climate plan. "And I think that until we do have a climate policy, the idea that we should be supportive of a pipeline that will increase greenhouse gas emissions is deeply troubling."

White House senior adviser John D. Podesta. Podesta, who joined the White House staff in January, has said he will not formally participate in the administration's deliberations about the pipeline since he has publicly questioned whether the United States should greenlight another major fossil fuel project. Podesta has raised his objections in a 2012 Wall Street Journal opinion piece with Keystone opponent Tom Steyer, and in public forums. Speaking at a Canadian-sponsored conference on "Greening the Oil Sands" on June 23, 2010, he said, "I’m skeptical about a 'green' vision for tar sands, and I want to level with you about how I see the future of energy policy playing out. How we choose to produce and consume energy today will change the world for either good or for ill for coming generations. ... Failing to curb our dependence on fossil fuels will create a world dramatically different than the one we’re currently accustomed to; one in which sea level rise, extreme weather, and reduced resource supplies will not only cause irreparable harm to ecosystems around the globe, but also tremendous human suffering and conflict. We need to do our best to absorb the weight of that fact and incorporate it into our decisions."

 Former Obama campaign aides Bill BurtonJim PapaStephanie CutterPaul Tewes and Dan Kanninen. The five aides--all of whom worked in the White House at some point over the past five years with the exception of Tewes--are working to block the pipeline at three separate firms. Burton and Papa work at the Global Strategy Group and represent the League of Conservation Voters; Cutter counts LCV as a client at her firm Precision Strategies; and Tewes and Kanninen work on the issue for the "All Risk, No Reward" coalition at the Smoot Tewes Group.

GMMB. The firm, which produced ads for both President Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns, is now doing ads for Steyer's NextGen Climate Action. The group has questioned whether the project will benefit Chinese investors more than Americans, and is now gearing up to target lawmakers supporting the pipeline who are up for reelection this year.


 Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Chu, who has spoken repeatedly about the need to cut the world's carbon output, has not said what he thinks of the pipeline. But at a conference in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, he said political calculations would influence the administration's final decision.

“I don’t have a position on whether the Keystone pipeline should be built. That is for the secretary of state and the president. But I will say that the decision on whether the construction should happen was a political one and not a scientific one,” Chu said, according to the Oil and Gas Journal. He added in a later interview with the journal, "The entire statement should include that the studies looking into what are the long-term effects are in fact scientific and that is the only scientific part of the decision.”

Former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson. Jackson, who now serves as Apple's top environmental officer, has not commented on the project since leaving the administration a year ago. But the EPA pressed the State Department to look more carefully at the project's climate impact during her tenure, and she has privately questioned whether it makes sense to move ahead with Keystone, according to individuals familiar with those discussions.

 Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton, whose former deputy presidential campaign manager works as a lobbyist for TransCanada, didn't say much about what she thought of the project while serving in the administration, and hasn't said much more now that she's no longer a Cabinet member. But if the State Department does not reach a final before the fall elections, she may come under intense pressure to declare her position if she decides to launch a 2016 presidential bid.

The U.S. State Department issues an environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, that played down the impact it would have on climate change. (Video: Reuters)