(This story has been corrected from its original version. The correction clarifies the 10th paragraph to explain that Steyer’s donation was to a ballot initiative committee headed by the candidate, not to the candidate himself. The Daily Caller apologizes for the error.)
Is Tom Steyer paying off Democrat politicians to go after fossil fuel companies?
It doesn’t not seem that way.
Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund manager, green activist, Democrat Party gadfly and financier of a $10 million effort to impeach President Trump, appears to at least be following closely developments in a variety of state-level efforts to sue oil companies for damages they allege were caused by global warming.
In September 2016, the New York Post reported Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, was trying to set up a phone call with Steyer to discuss political contributions to a ‘governor’ race in the context of the state’s oil industry lawsuit.
“Eric Schneiderman would like to have a call with Tom regarding support for his race for governor … regarding Exxon case,” said the email, which was sent from Steyer’s lawyer to his scheduler.
“The email raised questions about whether Schneiderman had plans to run for New York governor in 2018 – and whether his decision to take on Big Oil was connected to political donations,” wrote Alana Goodman in a story for the Daily Mail.
Steyer denied any involvement in the oil industry lawsuit and said he was “not part of this effort.” Schneiderman denied the email indicated he was interested in running for governor and has refused public information requests to produce multiple email conversations in 2015 between his office and Steyer, citing “law enforcement” exemptions to public records laws.
But new records obtained by the Daily Mail show Steyer’s camp was working behind the scenes on and fully aware of these lawsuits much earlier. The records show two of the top executives in NextGen, the non-profit that spearheads Steyer’s environmental work, received updates on March 9, 2015, on where things stood with a batch of state-level class action lawsuits against oil companies.
The memo was from Matt Pawa, who runs a law firm that specializes in anti-energy class action suits, to Dan Lashof, a longtime green activist and CEO of NextGen, and David Weiskopf, the group’s attorney. It outlined strategy for what has become a sizable attack on the oil industry in multiple states and cities.
California election records show that in late 2016, Steyer had contributed $30,000 to a ballot initiative committee named for Ed Lee, who would go on to win San Francisco’s mayoral election. The ballot initiative propounded changes on homelessness and housing policies in line with Lee’s campaign platform. In September of 2017, the city filed suit against BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon and Shell.
The secret strategy was to file the suits based on California’s ‘public nuisance’ laws. The suits attempt to force the oil companies to pay into an abatement fund for the “massive infrastructure changes” the city says are necessitated by global warming.
The memo claims reduced melting of snowpack caused by global warming already has begun to reshape California’s water resources to the tune of at least $3 billion per year in added costs to maintain the water supply.
It says California needs $44 billion in water improvements over the next 20 years, and that “while some portions of these costs may be unrelated to global warming, given the recognized impact of global warming in causing much of the underlying changes in water quantity and runoff timing that necessitate such infrastructure changes, it seems clear that global warming is causing the state billions of dollars in damages.
The same researchers have said drought cost the state economy $2.2 billion in 2014 and that still other researchers have established what they consider a causal link between global warming and drought.
The activists realize these are long-shot claims and that not all the expenses can be attributed to global warming.
But the goal, they say, is not so much to win these lawsuits – the memo acknowledges judges probably won’t impose joint liability on oil companies whose individual contributions to greenhouse gas emissions amount to less than 5 percent of the problem each.
The goal is to force discovery — to have courts order oil companies to produce documents on what they knew about global warming and when in an effort to prove the industry was involved in a campaign of deception and denial.
“Just obtaining such documents gave the Tobacco litigation an unstoppable momentum, here to obtaining industry documents would be a remarkable achievement that would advance the case and the cause,” Pawa, the attorney, wrote in the memo.
Steyer has meant big bucks to Big Green for a long time. He was a main backer of the campaign to stop the Keystone XL pipeline in 2014 and has financed a variety of green advocacy projects over the years.
Now he appears to be paying politicians to file job-killing lawsuits on questionable bases against lawful businesses operating in their state for essentially political reasons. Whoever ends up running against him may want to point that out.
Brian McNicoll is a writer based in Virginia. He has worked as a senior writer for The Heritage Foundation and as communications director for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.