Climate activists who chased Buttigieg, Powell off stages rewarded with private White House meeting

A far-left climate activist organization was granted a private meeting with senior White House adviser John Podesta last month after the group repeatedly derailed federal officials’ public events with disruptive protests. 

The Washington, D.C.-based Climate Defiance — which was founded in early 2023 by activists Michael Greenberg and Rylee Haught — announced last week on social media that it had met with Podesta on Dec. 15. The group, whose members regularly conduct protests opposing fossil fuel production and use, failed to detail the contents of the meeting, but published a letter it gave to Podesta following the meeting.

“Thank you for taking the time to meet with us today,” Climate Defiance wrote to Podesta in the letter. “We appreciate your willingness to heed our deeply-held concerns. Echoing the voices of millions of Americans, we write to you in the eleventh hour of the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced: planetary and societal collapse due to the continued burning of fossil fuels.”

“We urge you to wield your utmost authority to implement a swift end to any federal support for new fossil fuel infrastructure. Both the urgency of this action and the severe consequences of further delay cannot be overstated,” it continued. “Climate Defiance recognizes your commitment to climate action and commends you on your vital work developing and implementing the Inflation Reduction Act.”

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Climate Defiance added in the letter that the White House cannot only push green energy development, but must actively oppose all fossil fuel development. It further accused President Biden of supporting “massive new fossil fuel infrastructure projects which eclipse emissions reductions.”

It also acknowledged that it has taken action to disrupt events where federal officials, including Podesta and Cabinet members, were speaking. In 2022, Biden appointed Podesta to lead the White House Office of Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation, a role that includes overseeing billions of dollars in Inflation Reduction Act spending.

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“We have done so because, like the millions of young people who delivered Biden a decisive victory in 2020, we are stunned and enraged by his willingness to sacrifice our futures to satisfy the greed of the fossil fuel industry,” the letter stated.

“The President’s reversal of his campaign promise to end drilling on federal lands and his relentless approval of new oil and gas projects jeopardize the survival of our species — and threaten his own political future,” the group added. “We share this information as people of conscience who know that, should Biden’s anticipated 2024 opponent win the election, it is not only game-over for the climate — but for democracy and national security.”

On April 25, 2023, in one of group’s first actions, members of Climate Defiance shut down an event where Podesta was speaking about climate change policy. The activists chanted “no more drilling,” called on the Biden administration to keep its “promise” and said the nation “never needed fossil fuels.”

The comments were made in reference to Biden’s approval of the Willow Project, a massive 30-year oil drilling project located in northern Alaska. The project’s developer projected it would produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day over the next three decades.

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The Willow Project approval was announced by the Department of the Interior in March, but the decision was ultimately made by Biden and White House officials including Podesta. The decision sparked an internal dispute between officials with some seeking to tank the project from within.

In addition, in the letter published following Climate Defiance’s meeting with Podesta last month, it said the Biden administration must, at the very least, withdraw support for oil and gas export projects like the Texas GulfLink project. That project is a crude oil export terminal proposed to be constructed off the coast of Texas, but has yet to receive approval by the Transportation Department’s Maritime Administration.

In October, Climate Defiance activists chased Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg from a Baltimore event which they protested to call for his agency to reject both the Texas GulfLink project and a separate project, the Sea Port Oil Terminal.

“Petro Pete is a coward. As we write he is ramming down our throats the Sea Port and GulfLink oil terminals – each worse than Keystone,” Climate Defiance tweeted following the event. “We must resist him with all we’ve got. And we will.”

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Months earlier, in June, Climate Defiance disrupted an event in Michigan where Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm was delivering remarks. Some of the activists associated with the group were forcibly dragged from the event after they refused to leave. 

The group also disrupted multiple speeches given in 2023 by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. 

“Close the f‑‑‑ing door,” Powell appeared to mutter during a November protest in which activists stormed a room where he was delivering remarks.

On Tuesday, after criticism that its meeting with the White House suggested the group was selling out, Climate Defiance vigorously defended itself.

“If there’s an opening at the table we pull up a f—ing chair,” the group said in an X post. “And yes if you are not careful it is very easy to get so enthralled by the gleam of the White House that you water down your tactics in order to preserve that access. That is a pitfall into which others before us have fallen. We get it!”

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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