On May 12, the United States Senate fell 5 votes short of the 60 required to invoke cloture. (Cloture is a way to close debate and cause an immediate vote on a bill.) The measure in question was the first energy bill to have hit that chamber since 2007. It was killed by the Keystone XL Pipeline project which would funnel Canadian crude oil from Alberta down to Texas refineries.
Republicans wanted to add an amendment to approve the project. Democrats wanted a stand-alone vote on it; with Democrats in the clear majority in the Senate, the project would have probably been defeated. But if Keystone had been approved, President Obama would have almost certainly vetoed it. The end result: no bill at all, with or without an amendment. Keystone is dead in the Senate, at least until 2015 when the November 2014 elections may have reversed the balance of power. Of course, there is always that veto waiting in the wings.
The stakes were especially high for about a half-dozen Democrats who do not tow the anti-Keystone line of fellow Democratic Senators. The dissidents come from states that are dependent on the oil or gas industry; they are nervously facing a tough re-election battle in November 2014. One of them is the influential new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. As the new chairman, she’s been campaigning for re-election on the promise of “getting things done,” which is clearly not the case.
One man stands in her way. No, not President Obama, but the billionaire environmentalist Thomas Steyer. The leftwing Steyer undoubtedly is sincere in his green beliefs but sincerity on an issue is easier if you also stand to make a fortune from it. The conservative Daily Caller (Nov. 8, 2013) noted, “Most of Steyer’s $1.4 billion fortune came through investments in fossil fuels. In fact, Steyer’s biggest cash cow is Farallon Capital Management. Farallon has stakes in a number of oil, gas and pipeline companies, including a large investment in Kinder Morgan, an oil and gas pipeline outfit that plans to expand its own TransMountain pipeline to transport oil from Alberta to refineries and shipping terminals in the U.S. and Canada.” (Steyer actually founded Farallon with $15 million in start-up money.)
Keystone threatens Steyer’s profits in several ways. A glut of Canadian oil would drive down energy costs in America, and the new supplier would be a competitor. But more than anything else, the method of supply would also compete with Steyer’s self-interest.
The Business Insider (June 17, 2013) observed that, if TransMountain’s “expansion is approved, TransMountain will be the only available outlet for Alberta crude. If Keystone XL is killed, it will leave TransMountain as the only game in town for transporting oil directly from the oil sands to export terminals, up to 900,000 barrels a day. And most of that oil will be shipped west to China.”
No wonder Steyer has not breathed a word of criticism about TransMountain, which is functionally the same as Keystone. No wonder he lobbied against the Northern Gateway pipeline which would take oil from Edmonton to the west coast. It, too, would compete with TransMountain.
Steyer does not speak of his own profit, however. When the Washington Post (April 22, 2014) compared Steyer to the conservative billionaire Koch Brothers, who donate millions toward election campaign, he reportedly “chuckled.” Then, he replied “Their policies line up perfectly with their pocketbooks, and that’s not true for us,” he said. “What we are doing is we are trying to stand up for ideas and principles that we think are incredibly important but have nothing to do with our incomes or assets.”
But, then, Steyer is used to misrepresenting facts. The Washington Post Fact Checker awarded Steyer four Pinocchios – its highest ‘honor’ – for the depth of his inaccuracy about Keystone. The proximate cause of the award was a 90-second ad, which he both funded and starred in. There he stated, “[a] vote for Keystone is a vote to raise gas prices on Americans and send the profits to a foreign oil company” even though more oil and more competition would almost certainly lower gas prices.
A 90-second ad, of which Steyer is the funder and star, claims that Keystone would create only 35 permanent jobs. And, yet, a 2000-page State Department study reported, “Including direct, indirect, and induced effects, the proposed Project would potentially support approximately 42,100 average annual jobs across the United States over a 1-to 2- year construction period (of which, approximately 3,900 would be directly employed in construction activities).” The State Department is a critic, not an advocate of Keystone.
Steyer backs up his misrepresentations with cold cash. A lot of it. For example, he reportedly poured $8 million into Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s re-election campaign. He funded the Virginia campaign for one reason alone; the governor’s rival was a notorious skeptic on global warming who would have backed Keystone. For $8 million, Steyer eliminated an opponent, bought a politician and impressed the remaining Democrats with political muscle he could flex on their behalf.
For 2014, Steyer has announced plans to use his advocacy group, NextGen Political Action, to funnel about $100 million into the campaigns of Democratic congressional candidates. PACs, such as those founded by Steyer, are political action committees that can legally raise an unlimited amount of money from entities such as corporations and individuals; within loose restrictions, the money can then be directed to a specific party or candidate.
The Washington Post commented on Steyer: “He’s quickly emerged as a new and much-needed source of campaign money for Democrats eager to find ways to match the rise of conservative donors who are using new super PACs to spend millions of dollars attacking congressional Democrats on the airwaves …”
How desperate are the Democrats for money? They are willing to literally sell the Senate floor. From the evening of March 10th through to the next morning, about 30 Democratic senators held a 15 hour speechathon to address “climate change.” The event was planned at Steyer’s home with such influential Democrat Senators as Majority Leader Harry Reid.
How much did the Senate cost? With the dangled $100 million divided by 15 hours, the Senate was for sale at approximately $6 million an hour.
Political commentators are openly speculating on what Obama will cost. Keystone has strong bipartisan and public support; and even two environmental analyses by the State Department couldn’t point to any major negative impact of the project. Nevertheless, as the Sunshine State News (Fla., April 25, 2014) reported: “Never mind the Kochs. After assessing who did what bad to America lately, I nominate Tom Steyer for the top of the list. Last week the billionaire hedge fund manager from San Francisco bought off the White House to the tune of $100 million in order to delay the Keystone XL pipeline decision.” But, then, Keystone has nothing to do with “incomes or assets”; it is all about “ideas and principles.”