The post-election agenda of left-wing environmental groups, assuming they can win control of the Colorado state legislature on Nov. 8, is starting to become clear. And in case you were wondering, the ideas behind that agenda are coming from Washington, D.C., San Francisco and New York, not from here.
The Colorado Independent reported this week that Democrats are planning a new standing committee on climate change if they win control of the state legislature. They already hold the state House, while Republicans have a one-seat majority in the state Senate. To win control of the legislature for Democrats, environmental groups backed by California billionaire Tom Steyer – and other left-wing organizations supported by George Soros, the New York hedge fund tycoon – are pummeling Colorado’s down-ballot races with outside money right now.
If they are successful, Sen. Lucia Guzman of Denver will likely lead the new Democratic majority in the upper chamber, the Independent reports. And according to Sen. Guzman, the new climate committee will “move the state in the direction of supporting more renewable energy” and try to help rural communities cope with job losses in the fossil-fuel sector.
“We want to have an opportunity through this committee to join with communities in the rural areas throughout Colorado where we might bring together environmental and conservation interests with business rejuvenation opportunities,” she said.
Pelosi-style climate committee
Let’s deal first with the climate committee. This idea is a retread from the Pelosi-Reid Congress, which ran from 2007 to 2011. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat, established a standalone climate panel called the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. It was meant to put climate legislation on the fast track and get around the concerns of lawmakers on existing committees with jurisdiction over energy and other impacted sectors of the economy.
Even other Democrats criticized the climate committee as a bad idea, according to the Washington Post. It was immediately stripped of the authority to write legislation and limped along as a platform for symbolic hearings and publicity stunts until it was disbanded after Republicans retook the U.S. House in 2011. It’s worth remembering that cap-and-trade climate legislation, championed by President Barack Obama in 2009 and 2010, was a major factor in Democrats losing more than 60 seats and control of the U.S. House.
Steyercare for fossil-fuel workers
Now let’s turn to the idea of increasing government mandates for renewable power while helping, if that’s the right word, fossil-fuel workers who lose their jobs. If it sounds familiar, that’s because you’ve heard it over and over again in national politics this year.
“I’m the only candidate [with] a policy about how to bring economic opportunity, using clean renewable energy as the key, into coal country,” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said during primary season. “Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” the former U.S. Secretary of State and New York senator added.
Her rival during the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders, had a very similar plan. “Bernie strongly supports efforts to develop and deploy clean, sustainable energy technologies like energy efficiency, solar, wind and geothermal,” the Sanders energy platform reads. “But we must ensure our transition from fossil fuels to clean energy is a just transition for workers.” According to the Sanders platform, this includes “extended unemployment benefits, education opportunities, health care and job training for those transitioning to a career in the clean energy industry” and “billions of dollars of investments in communities most affected by a transition to a clean energy future.”
If you want to know where all this talk is coming from, look no further than a joint interview this month with Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and leader of the “keep it in the ground” coalition of environmental activists, and Steyer, a massive donor to environmental groups and Democratic candidates.
“Renewable energy is clearly where the future lies,” McKibben told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “The open question is whether it will be a just transition or not.” Later in the interview, Steyer added: “None of these people became coal miners for bad reasons. There’s no culpability here. At the same time, we’re going to make this transition. The question is … Are you going to take care of the people caught in this transition, and who are caught in a very tough time?”
A few days later, Steyer headlined a climate conference in Ohio, where former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) was also a speaker. Strangely enough, Ritter had a very similar message: Climate regulations should include a “justice component” for fossil-fuel workers and coal miners in particular.
Conservation Colorado promises cash for ‘revitalization’
Here in Colorado, Steyer’s agenda is also promoted by Conservation Colorado, the local chapter of the League of Conservation Voters, a national environmental activist group. Steyer has strong financial connections to both groups, having donated at least $200,000 to Conservation Colorado’s campaign arm and $475,000 to the LCV in recent years.
In May, Conservation Colorado’s executive director Pete Maysmith published an op-ed in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel headlined: “Environmental groups should come to the aid of coal country.” In the op-ed, Maysmith pledged: “We will make rural economic revitalization one of our top priorities for the 2017 legislative session, and will work to pass bills that provide access to financial support and other tools with which to build rural economies.”
That could mean everything from “ensuring retirement security, permanent health benefits, and long-term unemployment for miners” to “finding the cash to build infrastructure to modernize rural areas, like roads, airports, and rural broadband,” Maysmith said.
In other words, ask and Tom Steyer’s local environmental group will provide. But here’s the catch: To get the government assistance, you must first lose your job to the California billionaire’s “keep it in the ground” agenda.
Blue-collar Democrats in energy and construction unions haven’t exactly warmed up to this idea. “Tom Steyer and his allies oppose an all-of-the-above energy policy that not only creates good union jobs, but offers to keep the lights on and meet our nation’s energy needs even as we transition to a cleaner, more sustainable future,” Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), said in May. “His vision of leaving oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels in the ground kills jobs, drives up energy costs, and threatens to strangle our economy.”
“As a hedge-fund billionaire, he may not feel the pain of such self-righteous, patronizing and damaging policies, but our members, and all American families, do. ‘Leave it in the Ground’ is not a viable energy policy; it’s political bullshit,” the LIUNA president concluded.
What about the rest of the Steyer agenda?
With Steyer’s close ties to Conservation Colorado, it’s no surprise to find the group involved in Sen. Guzman’s climate committee plan. “One potential partner in the effort, she says, likely would be Conservation Colorado,” the Independent reported. Remember, this is the same organization spending hundreds of thousands of dollars right now – including money from Steyer, the California billionaire – to make Sen. Guzman the new majority leader in the state Senate.
If that happens, the climate committee and legislation aimed at “helping” the state’s coal communities will be just the beginning. Tom Steyer opposes fracking. He funds and supports the same “keep it in the ground” activists who were behind this year’s failed anti-fracking ballot measures. With new influence over the state legislature, he will demand that lawmakers pick up where the anti-fracking ballot measures left off and pass new measures that target the state’s oil, natural gas and coal producers.
On the campaign trail this year, Steyer has also pressured candidates to support a “clean energy” mandate of 50 percent by 2030, so you can bet there will be legislation introduced to make Colorado’s controversial renewable energy mandates even tougher. And remember that Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is under pressure from environmental activists to issue an executive order with state-level greenhouse gas targets to backstop the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which faces an uncertain future due to legal challenges. Whether the executive order materializes or not, a Steyer-friendly legislature will push to impose those limits or even stricter greenhouse gas targets on the Colorado economy.
Maybe you agree with these ideas. Maybe you don’t. But as Colorado voters, let’s not fool ourselves about where these ideas are coming from and whose money is behind them.
Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups. From 2004 to 2012, he was a news reporter covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.