President Obama speaks at Ellicott Dredges in Baltimore on May 17. The trip followed a visit by the company's president to Capitol Hill to testify in support of the Keystone XL pipeline. The White House says Obama's speech had nothing to do with Keystone, but environmental groups have been frustrated with his stance on the issue.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
But now that it's focused on global warming, there's some tension with the agenda inside the administration.
This week, Organizing for Action unveiled a website urging supporters to "Call Out the Climate Change Deniers." The group recently produced a video highlighting Republicans who question the science of climate change — including House Speaker John Boehner.
"Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide," Boehner says in the montage. "Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you've got more carbon dioxide."
For Obama's supporters, this campaign helps create an us-and-them, black-and-white standoff. On one side, Obama and the scientific community who conclude man-made climate change is real. On the other, members of Congress who are unconvinced.
"The end goal here is obviously to spur action behind climate," says Ben LaBolt, a former White House spokesman who consults with Organizing for Action. "Few issues have motivated supporters to join Organizing for Action like climate change."
That's where things get complicated. While OFA's mission is to advance the president's agenda, some environmentalists are frustrated with that agenda when it comes to climate change.
For example, protesters have marched against the Keystone XL pipeline for more than a year — including a demonstration that brought thousands to the White House.
Last week, Peter Bowe, the head of a Baltimore dredging company, testified in support of the pipeline, telling a congressional committee it's all about jobs.
He said it's "not the construction jobs from the pipeline itself, but ongoing jobs every year for decades to come — all related to the production of oil from the Alberta oil sands deposits."
Obama spoke last Friday at that dredging company in Baltimore.
"You guys are an example of what we can do to make America a magnet for good jobs," he said. "After all, y'all know a thing or two about growing the economy."
The White House insists the president's speech had nothing to do with Keystone. But the situation shows how awkward this is for Obama, caught between protecting the environment and trying to create jobs.
Organizing for Action's global warming campaign does not extend to this key environmental debate of the day.
"Ultimately, the president's position on Keystone has been to let the State Department review process play out," LaBolt says. "And Organizing for Action is going to do the same thing."
OFA says if people want to lobby the president on Keystone, they can join other groups.
But the pipeline is not the only area where environmental groups are frustrated with Obama.
"Existing power plants are America's biggest global warming polluter," says Dan Lashof with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "They're responsible for about 40 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions. And EPA has both the authority and the obligation to set standards to curb those emissions."
But Obama's nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, recently told a Republican senator that the agency is not developing any regulations to limit emissions from existing power plants.
Last week, a Senate committee voted along party lines to approve McCarthy's nomination. OFA and environmental groups both urged the full Senate to approve her. That's one thing they agree on. What the Obama administration does after she's in the job is a different story.