Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer is beginning to explore election-year involvement in Colorado, where energy plays a key role in a heated Senate race and a series of local ballot initiatives aim to give localities the power to restrict hydraulic fracturing within their borders.
Advisers to Steyer's NextGen Climate nonprofit, which maintains an affiliated super political action committee that can raise and spend unlimited funds, visited Colorado last week for "a series of meetings with political, community and enviro leaders in the state," according to a source with knowledge of the group's schedule.
Among NextGen's stops was a sit-down with Coloradans for Local Control, which is working on behalf of several state ballot initiatives that aim to restrict the distance between drilling rigs and homes or businesses as well as provide localities more power to limit the extent of oil and gas development.
Coloradans for Local Control spokesman Rick Ridder, also president of the Denver-based political consulting firm RBI Strategies, said in an interview yesterday that he and NextGen had "initial conversations informing them of some of activities we're moving forward with," but he had not asked for a specific commitment to investment in the state-level group's work.
"In the parlance of job seeking, it would be called an informational interview," Ridder added. Asked if NextGen investment would be welcome, he said: "We seek the broadest coalition possible, and if their group is a part of that, we'd look forward to having their support."
NextGen's move came days before the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) released a new TV ad blasting Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, running to unseat Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), as beholden to the conservative oil magnates Charles and David Koch. The anti-Gardner ad is the second in a $1 million series LCV plans to run against the House Republican, whose bill expanding Energy Department approvals of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals is set to clear the Energy and Commerce Committee this week (E&ENews PM, Apr. 17).
Steyer has vowed to spend $50 million of his own money on ensuring that climate change is a factor at the ballot box during this fall's midterms and to seek another $50 million in outside contributions toward that end, though he has yet to settle on which races to play in. Already on NextGen's radar are the Florida gubernatorial contest and the Senate race in Iowa, where Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley hopes to ascend to the upper chamber and recently became an open opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline (E&E Daily, Mar. 28).
Should Steyer decide to aid Udall against Gardner, who polls show are tied in the race, the spending could help supporters of KXL press the senator further on his lack of a stated position on the controversial oil sands crude pipeline. Udall is the only Democrat facing a difficult Senate race this year who remains undecided on the $5.4 billion Canada-to-U.S. project, citing the need to let the State Department continue a KXL review process that was recently delayed until next year.