Vice President Joe Biden told a South Carolina environmental activist Friday that he opposes a controversial oil pipeline from Canada, but said he is "in the minority" inside the Obama administration, according to the activist's account of the conversation.
Biden made the remark at Rep. Jim Clyburn's annual "World Famous Fish Fry" Friday evening, where he met Elaine Cooper, a Columbia resident and group chair of the South Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club, while working the ropeline amongst hundreds of supporters in attendance. An email obtained by BuzzFeed from the organization's national program assistant, Jessica Eckdish, provides Cooper's record of the encounter, in which she "was able to ask Vice President Biden if he supporting [sic] rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline," Eckdish writes.
The email continues: "Here's his response from Elaine: He grabbed my Sierra Club hat on my head and said, 'yes, I do — I share your views — but I am in the minority' and smiled."
Cooper told BuzzFeed Tuesday afternoon that she was too busy to comment further on her chat with the vice president. (When reached by phone, she was volunteering for Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, the Democratic candidate in that day's South Carolina special congressional election.) But Cooper did blog about the conversation Wednesday on the Sierra Club's website. Eckdish did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The TransCanada Keystone project, a proposed $7 billion pipeline that would transport crude oil from Alberta's tar sands to refineries in the United States, has become the rallying point for climate change activists — from groups like the Sierra Club in particular — who bitterly oppose the pipeline and hope that President Obama reject the project over potential environmental impacts.
Although Organizing for Action, the independent group backing Obama's policy initiatives, announced last month that their first major focus would be a multi-year climate change effort, the White House yet hasn't made a clear ruling on the pipeline.
Obama's former top environmental official, Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson, opposed the project and departed frustrated over the administration's lack of progress on climate policies, sources told BuzzFeed late last year.
Biden's comments Friday, as told by Cooper, suggest that the administration may remain divided on the pipeline project, which is favored by the majority of Americans, according to recent polling.
But an official in the vice president's office said Biden's views on the Keystone pipeline remain unchanged, citing a 2012 interview in which he said the administration will make its decision on Keystone only after the State Department — the government body authorized to issue permits for cross-border pipelines — concludes its review of the project later this year.
"It's going to go through the process and it will be made on an environmentally sound basis," Biden said at the time.
The White House official added, "The Vice President has made his views known on this issue and his views haven't changed. Any impression to the contrary would be mistaken."
Update: Cooper blogged about her conversation with the vice president on the Sierra Club's website, recounting what Biden told her about the Keystone pipeline, and adding, "I know that this vice president is a man who isn't afraid to speak from his heart, and who sometimes gets out in front of the rest of the administration on moral issues," Cooper writes. "Nice talking to you Mr. Vice President. I'm looking forward to a day when I can pose the same question to President Obama: Will you reject the pipeline?" (5/8/2013)
This article's headline has been updated.