Behind the scenes in John Podesta’s first year

By Robin Bravender | 12/15/2023 01:21 PM EST

President Joe Biden’s top climate law aide regularly hosts green group bosses, lobbyists and industry execs.  

Photo collage of John Podesta, the White House and his meeting logs

White House aide John Podesta has held a steady stream of meetings with outsiders hoping to sway the administration on climate and energy. POLITICO illustration/Photos by AP, iStock

If you’re a big deal in the energy and environment world, there’s a decent chance you’ve been into the White House to meet with John Podesta in recent months.

The Democratic stalwart — who’s now leading the White House’s push to roll out a massive climate law — has hosted green group bosses, oil and gas executives, renewable energy advocates, lobbyists, politicians, and environmental justice leaders since he joined the Biden administration in September 2022.

“He’s incredibly important in all of this,” said John Breaux, a lobbyist and former Democratic senator from Louisiana who has attended meetings with his clients and Podesta in the White House.


“He can see the big picture from 30,000 feet up,” Breaux said of Podesta. “He has a great ability, I think, to bring all sides together for the common good.”

Unlike the Trump administration, which didn’t release its visitor records, the Biden team regularly shares details about who’s meeting with White House officials. E&E News reviewed the 912 entries logged for Podesta from his start date in September 2022 through August 2023, the most recent data released by the White House.

“President [Joe] Biden is proud to lead the most transparent administration in American history, and to have restored the practice of releasing White House visitors logs after it was discontinued by his predecessor,” said White House spokesperson Michael Kikukawa. “We meet with a wide range of stakeholders to discuss the President’s agenda, which is bringing investments and jobs to communities across the country and lowering energy costs as we fight the climate crisis.”

Meetings with Podesta are “rigorous,” said one environmentalist who has met with Podesta in the White House. “You have to know your stuff.”

That environmentalist, who was granted anonymity to discuss private conversations, views it as a good thing that the Biden administration is hearing from green groups as well as industry executives.

“The Democrats are serious when they’re in charge,” that person said. “They talk to both sides. They’re not like the Republicans who just listened to the oil companies.”

Corning CEO Wendell Weeks.
Corning CEO Wendell Weeks arrives for a meeting with President Joe Biden in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on July 28, 2022, in Washington. | AFP via Getty Images

Some of Podesta’s visitors get more face time than others.

One of his most frequent guests during his first year in office was Wendell Weeks, the CEO of the New York-based manufacturing behemoth Corning.

Weeks and Podesta met in the White House at least six times from September 2022 and May 2023, the records show.

Biden appointed Weeks to a trade policy advisory committee in March. And in July 2022, Weeks joined other CEOs and the president for a White House discussion on the state of the economy.

Podesta also met with representatives from Honeywell, another major manufacturing and technology company. In June, the White House official met with Honeywell’s Executive Chair Darius Adamczyk and Honeywell lobbyist Lawrence Kast.

Walmart representatives met with Podesta on April 5, the day before the corporation announced plans to install new electric vehicle fast-charging stations at thousands of Walmart and Sam’s Club locations across the country. Walmart’s Vishal Kapadia, Bruce Harris and Sara Decker attended that meeting, according to the records. Nichole Distefano, a former Capitol Hill staffer and Obama EPA official who’s now a lobbyist at Mehlman Consulting, also attended that meeting.

Breaux, the former Louisiana senator whose lobbying clients include U.S. Steel, met with Podesta in the White House in April, the records show. They were joined by U.S. Steel’s Richard Fruehauf and Todd Young. They discussed industrial decarbonization, Breaux said.

Podesta met with Izzy Klein, a lobbyist and longtime Democratic insider, in June, along with representatives from Air Products and Chemicals. Also in the meeting were the chemical company’s CEO Seifollah Ghasemi, Ryan Daumer and John Major.

Klein, who’s also a lobbyist for the EV manufacturer Rivian, separately met with Podesta in June along with Rivian’s CEO Robert Scaringe and company representatives Christopher Nevers and Corey Ershow, the records show.

Albert Gore III
Albert Gore III, executive director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association | ZETA

Albert Gore III, executive director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association, met with Podesta in April along with representatives from ZETA’s member companies.

The meeting “allowed ZETA to sharpen its strategy for advancing meaningful permitting reform that upholds environmental and social standards, and ZETA has continued to strengthen its relationship with Podesta and the White House team on critical minerals,” the organization said of the meeting in its annual report.

Podesta huddled with Ford Motor’s Steven Croley in July. Croley, the automaker’s chief policy officer and general counsel, previously served in the Obama White House and at the Energy Department as general counsel.

Kris Balderston, a lobbyist and former Clinton White House official, met with Podesta in April, the logs show. Also in the meeting were Toyota’s Jamie Biondi, Christopher Reynolds and Gill Pratt.

Podesta told Reuters in May that Toyota “had been the laggard” on producing EVs but had changed course. “I think they’re going to stick with plug-in hybrids for a while, maybe longer than some of the other companies but they’re fully now committed under their new leadership to electrification,” Reuters reported.

Constellation Energy’s CEO Joseph Dominguez and David Brown met with Podesta in June. They discussed regulatory guidance related to the climate law’s tax credit for producing low-emission hydrogen, according to Constellation.

In August, Podesta hosted Mike Sommers, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, along with Hess CEO John Hess and Alexander Mistri, the oil and gas company’s head of external affairs.

Representatives from the Australian mining company Fortescue met with Podesta in July. The White House adviser hosted Fortescue’s Andrew Forrest, Andrew Vesey and Todd Clewett. Forrest announced in November that Fortescue would expand its U.S. presence as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Podesta in June hosted Sanjiv Malhotra, president and CEO of the Sparkz battery startup.

Mary Powell
Solar executive Mary Powell is pictured in Rutland, Vermont, on Sept. 15, 2015. | AP Photo/Wilson Ring

Renewable energy industry representatives are frequent visitors to the Biden White House.

Mary Powell, CEO of the solar company Sunrun, met with Podesta in July, according to the records. Sunrun’s Stephen Lassiter and Evan Dube also attended.

Podesta hosted Danny O’Brien and Hal Connolly, representatives of the South Korea-based solar company Hanwha Qcells, in May. O’Brien, who also met with Podesta in the White House in February, previously served as chief of staff to Biden when he was a senator. Connolly is another Capitol Hill veteran who also worked for the Climate Reality Project founded by former Vice President Al Gore.

Green group leaders and environmental justice advocates are also frequent visitors to the Biden White House.

In May, for example, Podesta hosted a large group of environmental advocates including Abigail Dillen of Earthjustice, Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Gene Karpinski of the League of Conservation Voters, Ben Jealous of the Sierra Club, Peggy Shepard of WE ACT for Environmental Justice and others.

Politicians — and former politicians — want to meet with Podesta, too.

In July, former California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger met with Podesta in the White House, the records show. During his visit to Washington, Schwarzenegger prodded congressional Republicans to change their messaging on climate change, Bloomberg reported at the time.

The actor and former governor wants to reframe the issue, and he hates the term “climate change,” he told CBS in May.

“As long as they keep talking about global climate change, they are not gonna go anywhere. ‘Cause no one gives a shit about that,” he told CBS. “So my thing is, let’s go and rephrase this and communicate differently about it and really tell people we’re talking about pollution. Pollution creates climate change, and pollution kills.”