Washington (CNN) – John Podesta, the Democratic wise man brought on by President Barack Obama to assist on health care and climate issues, won't advise the President when he decides whether or not to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The decision to abstain from the Keystone decision-making was Podesta's suggestion, the White House said Wednesday, and was made because the former Clinton chief of staff has made his opposition to the project known.
"The comments and views that Mr. Podesta has expressed have been done without the benefit of, or without the reality of him working directly for the President of the United States. So in this case, he felt it was most appropriate to basically send a signal early on that this is not something that will be part of his portfolio," Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, adding that Podesta relayed his decision to Denis McDonough, Obama's chief of staff.
Podesta, who headed Obama's 2008 transition team and most recently led the liberal Center for American Progress, has openly criticized the extraction of oil from Canadian tar sands, including during a 2010 keynote speech for a progressive Canadian organization.
"I question the hurry with which the State Department has chosen to decide whether or not to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline slated to reach from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico," he said in the speech. "There are enough legitimate questions about this pipeline-how soon it will be needed, its design and safety, and its potential impacts on important ecosystems along its 2,000 mile length-to take a more deliberate approach."
A decision on whether or not to approve the full Keystone KL pipeline is expected from the Obama administration by the spring after the State Department completes a review of the project. It falls to that agency to conduct the study since the pipeline would cross the U.S. border with Canada.
Last March, the State Department said expanding the Keystone pipeline would have no significant environmental effect, but stopped short of saying it should be approved. They're currently revising that report.
Earnest said on Wednesday that while the review is currently underway at the State Department, White House officials have been consulting in the process. Podesta, he said, would not be among those officials with a say in the outcome because he's already been so outspoken on the issue.
"These are views that have been strongly expressed and have gotten a lot of attention. And there's no doubt that he's expressed his views on a range of other things, too. Many of those things are frankly less controversial and aren't as much of a lightning rod as this particular issue has become," Earnest said.
Many of Obama's most ardent Democratic supporters have vocally opposed the Keystone pipeline, which would transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Texas. Environmentalists argue the chances for environmental disaster are higher since the oil extracted from tar sands is dirtier that other forms of petroleum.
The State Department has predicted the Keystone pipeline would create 5,000 jobs, a fact heralded by the project's supporters. They also point out Keystone's construction would allow the United States to import less oil from the Middle East.