The New Yorker reported Tuesday incoming special adviser to the president, Podesta, asked to be kept out of discussions on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.
TransCanada proposed the pipeline more than five years ago. It needs a presidential permit as a cross-border pipeline and President Obama said he'd weigh the project against its environmental footprint.
Podesta has expressed his opposition the pipeline in the past. The heavier grade of Canadian crude recovered from oil sands designated for the pipeline is considered an environment threat by Keystone XL opponents.
Deputy White House spokesman Josh Earnest was quoted by The Hill as saying recusal wasn't an appropriate description of Podesta's request.
"The word 'recuse' here is not the right word," Earnest said Wednesday. "There's no suggestion of some sort of conflict of interest, financial or otherwise as it relates to Mr. Podesta's opinions, views and positions on the Keystone pipeline."
Obama's administration has been accused of dragging its feet on the pipeline. Supporters of Keystone XL say it would be a source of economic stimulus and energy security.
TransCanada this week said it was preparing to put the so-called Gulf Coast project, considered the domestic leg of Keystone XL, into service to feed southern U.S. coast refineries.