Former Obama Staffer Leads White House Protests Against Pipeline

Devin Dwyer, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
Former Obama Staffer Leads White House Protests Against Pipeline

Power Players

Environmental activists are turning up the heat on President Obama as he faces what could be the trickiest decision of his second term: whether or not to approve the controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which could reach his desk this summer.

The project, which would transport oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, promises jobs and energy. But critics say it will ravage the environment and send oil overseas.

“We put him in the White House because we thought he was the best chance of really making progress on the issue of climate,” the Sierra Club’s Courtney Hight told Power Players.

“He’s strongly said that he wants to do something…and this is one of his best opportunities to actually follow through,” she said.

Hight is no ordinary environmentalist. She was one of the first foot soldiers for Obama in New Hampshire in 2007 and later led his campaign’s outreach to youth voters in swing-state Florida.

In 2008, she joined the administration as a member of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality, but later quit her post believing she could have greater influence from the outside.

“I worked for the president because I believed that he would change the way Washington fundamentally worked,” Hight said. “It’s still important to me, and I think part of governing is that you need people to push.”

And push she has. Hight has helped to mobilized hundreds of young people to boycott the pipeline in Washington. During one protest, she was arrested in front of the White House fence.

With Obama no longer under pressure of re-election, it’s unclear what leverage Hight and fellow activists may have. Polls show a strong majority of Americans favor of approving the pipeline. It’s also backed by labor unions and business groups.

“It’s not just about denying this pipeline,” Hight said. “It’s about, you know, making good on his investment or his promise to invest in clean energy and put that money into that, into clean energy opportunities verses into oil.”

The State Department, which is reviewing the pipeline plan, has released a favorable environmental review. However, the Environmental Protection Agency this week raised objections over the potential for harmful impacts.

What does Hight predict President Obama will do, and what are the potential consequences of his decision? Check out this episode of Power Players.

ABC's Eric Wray, Alexandra Dukakis, Freda Kahen Kashi, Dick Norling, and Shari Thomas contributed to this episode.