Billionaire Dem donor Steyer tells Obama to stop the Keystone Pipeline

Programming note: I`ll be on Ring of Fire this weekend with Mike Papantonio talking about Keystone. Details here. Listen live link here or click here to find a station near you. Show times: 3pm ET Saturday; 12pm ET Sunday. Tune in if you can — thanks.

This is a Keystone pipeline post — there`s rather good news, a billionaire Democratic donor, Tom Steyer, has written the President and told him to oppose the Keystone Pipeline — but I want to frame this as one battle in a small group of critical battles with Obama. It`s important, both tactically and strategically, that we see them as interconnected. So I want to lead with the context. (To jump to just the news about Steyer, click here.)

What are our critical second-term battles with Obama?

I`ve been saying that there are three big second-term battles we have with Obama and his administration. As expressed in this post, the second-term items are:

■ The “Grand Bargain” — a pretend way to solve a pretend problem (the deficit) with a disguised real goal — start the rollback of social insurance programs. (See here at 1:30 and elsewhere in the clip; note, that’s 2006.) Rolling back social insurance is a neoliberal wet dream. Clinton was on that path until a certain blue dress got in the way. The next Clinton will be on that path as well. Obama’s been after benefit cuts since his inauguration.

Oil and gas production — under Obama it`s off the charts, at a mid-term high. Getting Keystone approved is a clear must-have for him. Keystone has been fast-tracked since the beginning, and after a speed-bump in which the environmental movement reared its powerful head and asked for the wrong thing, it’s fast-tracked today. The latest government Keystone study was, in effect, authored by the pipeline’s owner, TransCanada.

■ TPP (TransPacific Partnership) — the latest trade agreement in a gaggle of trade agreements that enshrine capital as the only entity with global travel rights. Every billionaire on the planet will pay both the House and the Senate major money to please-please-please make it so. Obama will eagerly sign if they pass TPP through Congress.

We could win all three battles. On the first, `Grand Bargain` benefit cuts, we`ve been winning all along, thanks to you, and thanks to every vulnerable Congressional Democrat and Republican (which isn`t all of them, but it`s enough). No one in the country but the rich — and the D`s and R`s who serve them — want social programs cut. And the news today is that we might have won because the corp-friendly and powerful Dem think-tank CAP has just reversed itself. Time to stop grand-bargaining, they now say. Obama`s going to have to go it alone.


On the second, Keystone, it looks like a fight, but the Force is truly with us. Every day, more and more people are seeing this as a life-on-the-planet crossroads — because it is. If your child was born today and lives to 90 years old, she or he could live in a planet-cooked +7°C world. No fooling.

According to James Hansen`s recent work, the earth hasn`t seen +1°C since before the Pliocene, over 5 million years ago, way before man`s time began. And that could be a cast-in-stone outcome in the next 5–10 years. (More on Hansen`s new work in a future post.)

On the third, TPP, I`ll have more soon as well, including suggested framing and tactics to stop it.

All three battles are critical enough that we need to put our bodies in the gears of the machine to win them. This is about how the Keystone battle is shaping up.

The battle over Keystone is heating up

There`s been action on the Keystone front in just the last few weeks, all of it good for us. Even the Sierra Club signed on, the first such campaign in the club`s history.

Then Obama`s rebranded campaign operation, OFA, tried to roll out the `Obama cares about the climate` message and got challenged by real Obama voters about Keystone. Looks like, on Keystone, that Obama voters will not be easily rolled, and the fight is turning public.

Nothing OFA does, short of joining the anti-Keystone battle, will make it look like the good guys. And if OFA looks bad, Obama looks bad … because (shh) OFA is Obama (but keep it under your hat).

And just days ago, strong Obama-loyalist Van Jones came out hard against Obama and the pipeline. According to Jones, if it`s such a legacy item `he should call it the `Obama Tar Sands Pipeline` and stand there for the ribbon-cutting.` Strong indeed. And I`m willing to bet that Jones will be one of those chained to the White House fence; he sounds like he means it.

Which brings us to this week. Note that a few links above, where I said that Obama and OFA are getting challenged by Obama voters, I inserted this (new emphasis below):

Obama Hints at Approval of Keystone XL Pipeline at SF Fundraiser, Blames Middle Class Priorities

While President Obama didn’t address the Keystone XL Pipeline directly at a San Francisco fundraiser on Wednesday, he did give a hint that political reality – or his perception of it — will compel him to approve the final portions of it.

At the home of a pro-green, anti Keystone XL Pipeline billionaire, Obama set up an excuse for approval:

He said, “The politics of this are tough.” …

Obama’s remarks came at the home of billionaire Tom Steyer, a major supporter of green energy and climate initiatives who is planning to play an active role in the 2014 elections.

Keep Steyer in mind — he`s already not a fan of Keystone. In April, The Hill profiled him this way:

A California billionaire is pledging to spend as much of his fortune as necessary to make climate change “the defining issue of our generation.”

Tom Steyer, who made his riches as a hedge fund manager, told The Hill on Tuesday that he wants to make climate change a campaign issue for years to come and Democratic support for environmental protections as widespread as support for gay marriage and immigration reform.

The goal here is not to win. The goal here is to destroy these people. We want a smashing victory,” Steyer said of candidates he judges to be on the wrong side of the climate change debate.

Steyer turned up in The Hill because of the dinner you just read about — `a $32,500-per-person fundraiser with President Obama.` This isn`t a small-time fundraiser; Steyer is a hedge-fund king worth over a billion dollars who hosted a meet-Obama dinner at his home, a dinner costing more per-plate than 30% of the country makes in a year.

Dem billionaire challenges Obama on Keystone

And now the news. Like some of us, the above-mentioned billionaire Tom Steyer recently learned that the province of British Columbia just said No to a Keystone-like pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific Coast …

British Columbia rejects tar sands pipeline proposal that suggests “doing nothing” after oil spill

… In its final submission Friday to the federally-appointed Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel, the province states that it cannot support the Enbridge Northern Gateway project because the company “has been unable to address British Columbians’ environmental concerns.”

… and he`s acting on it. The British Columbia news hasn`t made a splash in the U.S. yet — think the corp-owned media may be in the tank for Keystone? — but it hit Steyer like a rock.

Here`s Steyer letter to Barack Obama, as quoted from DownWithTyranny, starting with Howie Klein`s introduction (my emphasis in both quotes):

As we`ve mentioned before, San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, `til now a dependable contributor to garden variety, Establishment Democrats, is deadly serious about saving the planet from environmental mayhem at the hands of corporate polluters, particularly, right now, the Keystone XL Pipeline. This week he warned Obama that there are no grounds whatsoever to approve the pipeline.

Now Tom Steyer`s letter, in full:

Dear Mr. President,

With Friday`s announcement that the Canadian provincial government of British Columbia opposes the transportation of tar sands oil over their lands, the last of the arguments for the development of the Keystone Pipeline has collapsed.

It has been my belief all along that your Administration was not going to approve the Keystone Pipeline because it simply made no sense on the policy merits to allow a pipeline that would enable massive greenhouse emissions, do almost nothing for our economy and slow our own move to research-based advanced energy independence that will generate hundreds of thousands of American jobs. Now this announcement by British Columbia, coupled with the other information that has come out since the review of the project began, means the controversy should be over.

Over the last year, each of the policy arguments for the pipeline has cratered.

First fell the argument that the pipeline would support oil independence. The U.S. is now an exporter of oil, and the Keystone oil will be piped across the Midwest down to the Gulf of Mexico where it will then be shipped as a cheap source of energy to our economic competitors in Asia, including China. In fact, TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, refused to support guarantees that the Keystone oil would not be used for foreign export when asked by Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) during congressional testimony in December 2011.

Second toppled the argument that the pipeline is good for the U.S. economy. The pipeline will generate profits, but profits overwhelmingly for foreign companies. The project will generate as much as $3.9 billion in additional revenue for foreign oil companies. Jobs, of course, are critical, but for the billions that the American people will generate for foreign oil companies, we will only get 35 permanent jobs in return. In fact, it appears that among the few Americans who would actually financially benefit from the building of the pipeline are the Koch Brothers (they have already been storing a toxic byproduct of Canadian tar sands oil at a location in Detroit, and in Canadian regulatory filings one of their subsidiaries declared that it had a “direct and substantial interest” in the construction of Keystone).

And now, the argument that the tar sands oil was going to be delivered across Canada if the U.S. pipeline was not permitted has been demolished. The contractor hired by the State Department to prepare its Keystone XL environmental impact review is reportedly under investigation for an alleged conflict of interest. Based on that contractor’s report, the State Department declared that there will be no significant greenhouse gas emissions from Keystone because the oil would be exported by other means if the pipeline were not approved. That argument was always a flimsy rationalization, but it has now been completely undermined by the decision of British Columbia to oppose a route through that province. This decision shows that our Environmental Protection Agency was right all along: Transporting tar sands from Canada through the Keystone Pipeline will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Given that none of the chief arguments being put forth by supporters of the pipeline remain standing, NextGen Action is going to be working with our friends and allies who are opposed to the development of Keystone XL to intensify our efforts in communicating what is the right policy choice to your Administration. On June 20, in Washington D.C. we will announce a campaign that will specifically focus on communicating to those Americans across the country that supported your re-election in 2012.


Tom Steyer

I don`t know where he got this idea:

It has been my belief all along that your Administration was not going to approve the Keystone Pipeline because it simply made no sense on the policy merits…

But his eyes are open now. I`m keeping Mr. Steyer and NextGen Action on our radar. I hope you`ll keep it on yours. As I said, this is winnable. Many many people get what`s at stake.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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