Steyer's Senate target list highlights delicate political math

Billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer yesterday asked his allies in the fight against Keystone XL to choose which of five senators or aspiring senators his political action committee should target with a TV ad blasting the oil sands crude pipeline.

Steyer's PAC, NextGen Climate Action, launched a website that spotlights pro-KXL statements from Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as well as Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Paul Broun (R-Ga.) and former Gov. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), all of them Senate hopefuls. A spokesman for the hedge fund magnate-turned-environmentalist, Mike Casey, declined to say how large the advertising buy aimed at the "winner" would be but promised a notable investment.

"These are a sample of lawmakers misled by tar sands lobbyists about 'energy from a trusted ally,'" Casey said in a statement, referring to the heavy Canadian crude that KXL would carry. Steyer has taken sharp jabs at pipeline sponsor TransCanada Corp. and other oil industry players for their pursuit of possible markets in Asia, particularly in China.

"We assume they don't want to be taken for a bunch of suckers, and they will want not just the facts about Chinese government investment, but an opportunity to ask the important questions of the State Department and TransCanada that have yet to be asked and are vital for the public to know."

Steyer's new campaign makes good on a vow he offered before State released its final environmental review of the $5.4 billion KXL on Friday (E&E Daily, Jan. 30). But his focus on the Senate -- Rubio is up for re-election in 2016, while the other four possible targets face voters this fall -- underscores the extent to which pipeline opponents must work to ensure that Democrats hold the upper chamber in the next Congress to avoid pro-KXL legislation becoming law.


Among the Senate Democrats who backed a nonbinding resolution in favor of the pipeline last year, seven have not publicly called for cutting short the Obama administration's ongoing review process: Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tom Carper of Delaware, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Chris Coons of Delaware, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner of Virginia. Steyer and fellow greens would need to peel off at least three in that group in order to keep any pro-pipeline vote count below a filibuster-proof 60-vote margin.

House Republicans already have passed several versions of legislation fast-tracking KXL, which would ship Alberta oil sands crude to Nebraska, but they edged away from a new pipeline confrontation yesterday by deciding against linking the project to a must-pass increase in the federal debt limit (Greenwire, Feb. 5).

Should the administration's analysis of KXL continue beyond the November midterm election, however -- a distinct possibility for a White House caught between the need to protect vulnerable pro-pipeline Democrats like Landrieu and the desire to avoid infuriating its liberal base -- a GOP-controlled Senate in the 114th Congress likely would not hesitate to strip presidential authority over the controversial project.

In another KXL development, the Sierra Club yesterday filed a federal court complaint against the Army Corps of Engineers, seeking to force the release of documents on the pipeline's prospective water impacts submitted by TransCanada.