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From Coal to Goal: One Billionaire’s Mission to Stamp Out Climate Change Denial

steyer

A story from FOX 31's Eli Stokols looks in detail at billionaire Tom Steyer, who was in Aspen yesterday for the American Renewable Energy Day summit conference – talking about his ambitious plans to aggressively take on politicians in 2014 and beyond who deny the general scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to global climate change:

Steyer’s plan mirrors that of mega-donors on the right — leveraging his personal fortune on behalf of candidates who support his agenda: supporting Democrats who will push for action to combat climate change and going after Republican incumbents who deny climate science…

Steyer, who has come under fire of late amidst disclosures that much of the fortune he amassed at Farallon Capital Management came in part from investing in companies that operate coal mines, is supporting Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in his reelection bid against Republican Congressman Cory Gardner, who has denied that climate change is impacted by human activity.

“We tried to go into states where there is a big difference between the candidates,” said Steyer, who explained that the 2014 strategy is more about turning out pro-environment voters than persuading swing voters to care more about the issue of climate change.

“A lot of people who support pro-environment candidates like Mark Udall are some of the likeliest drop-off voters. So we are focused not so much on TV ads but on the things that will be old-fashioned, 18th- century politics, trying to get local people to talk to local voters and citizens and why it’s important enough for them to get off the couch and go down to the polling place in the second Tuesday in November,” Steyer said.

As Stokols reports, Tom Steyer has announced his intention to spend $50 million this year to elect pro-environment candidates who acknowledge the role of industry and carbon energy sources in global climate change. Objectively speaking, compared to the amount of money conservative mega-donors like the Koch brothers have invested in American politics over the years, this isn't that much. Liberals also have many other well-established channels for aggregating and strategically spending money like the national Democracy Alliance. What makes Steyer's push different is the electoral focus on the environment. Not to change minds on the issue, but to motivate voters already responsive to the issue to get to the polls.

What Steyer wants is simple: for the voters who turn out in presidential election years to show up this November. Obviously, all Democrats are looking for the key to doing just that: it could help put a stop to the damaging recent cycle of political representation in the United States swinging drastically from left to right between presidential election years and midterm election years. In the polling done by backers of this year's abortive local control ballot initiatives showing enduring public support for locally regulating oil and gas drilling, you can see the electorate Steyer wants to reach clearly. It's a major reason why we believe those measures could not only have passed, but could have helped Democrats at the polls even if Democratic politicians steered clear.

Bottom line: Colorado environmental liberals who are upset by the resolution to the local control debate this year are about to see the issue clarified in the form of a straight-up climate change denier, GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner. The intra-Democratic debate over fracking in our energy-producing state will take an inevitable back seat to a much more fundamental question: does Colorado want to be represented in the U.S. Senate by a man who simply rejects out of hand the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are contributing to climate change?

That message, with a few million dollars behind it, could honestly be a game-changer.

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