Obama Campaign Aides to Obama: Reject Keystone XL Pipeline

Amy Harder

Almost 150 people who worked on President Obama’s 2012 campaign are urging their reelected commander in chief to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

In a letter unveiled at an event in Washington on Thursday morning, 145 former campaign staff members use Obama’s own words to convince the president he should not approve the project, which would send 35 million gallons of carbon-heavy oil sands every day 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. In the letter, the workers harken back to Obama’s call on election night 2012.

“You closed out our call on November 7th by saying to us, ‘Over the last four years when people ask me how do you put up with the frustrations of Washington, I just look to you. I think about what you guys are going to do. That’s the source of my hope and my inspiration, and I know that you guys won’t disappoint me,’ ” the former staff quote Obama as saying. They close the letter by adding: “For so long you have been the source of our hope and inspiration. Please don’t disappoint us. Reject Keystone XL.”

The State Department is reviewing an environmental assessment on the pipeline, the second such review since Obama rejected the project last year in the face of a Congress-imposed deadline. A final decision on the pipeline likely won’t come until at least this fall, but possibly not until early next year.

The letter was formally announced at Thursday's event hosted by Tom Steyer, a billionaire clean-energy venture capitalist who has in the last few months become politically active opposing the Keystone XL pipeline. Steyer, who also announced a new social-media campaign against the pipeline at the event, is a longtime supporter of Obama, dating back to his 2008 campaign. Earlier this year, Obama attended a fundraiser at Steyer’s California home.

Most of the staff members who signed the letter are young, lower-level field organizers from battleground states like Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, and Iowa. They represent a small fraction of the entire Obama campaign operation, which includes thousands of staffers across roughly 10 battleground states.

The letter signers stress that young people throughout the country voted for Obama because he would support strong action on climate change, which, they write, includes rejecting the pipeline.

“Climate change is a top issue for the youth voters that worked day-in and day-out to elect President Obama,” said Andrew Nazdin, who worked as a deputy training director for Obama’s reelection campaign, Organizing for America, in Virginia in 2012. “The president promised action and we are going to hold him to his word, lead on climate, and reject Keystone XL.” Nazdin, who now is the field director for Energy Action Coalition that organized the letter, was among those arrested recently in Chicago while protesting the project.

The community organizing group that evolved from Organizing for America—Organizing for Action—has notably not taken a position on the pipeline. Ivan Frishberg, the climate-change campaign manager for the group, notes that Obama is going to make a decision based on the State Department’s review, which is what Organizing for Action is going to do too, according to Frishberg.

Before joining Organizing for Action earlier this year, Frishberg worked for five years at Environment America, one of the loudest opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline.