Keystone opponent Tom Steyer warns Obama to reject pipeline or face backlash

Billionaire Tom Steyer, who has effectively pushed for action on climate change in California, is now setting his sights on Washington D.C. ((Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
Billionaire Tom Steyer, who has effectively pushed for action on climate change in California, is now setting his sights on Washington D.C. ((Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Billionaire and climate activist Tom Steyer has written an open letter to President Obama, warning him to reject the Keystone XL pipeline or face an organized rebellion from some of his most loyal supporters later this month.

On Friday, Canada’s British Columbia province informed a federal review board it opposes the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which aims to export crude oil from Canada's oil sand region to Asia via tankers. Since that represents an alternative means for shipping oil to Keystone XL, Steyer wrote that "the last of the arguments for the development of the Keystone Pipeline has collapsed."

Steyer, who has targeted Keystone supporters through his NextGen Action political action committee, says in the letter the president and his deputies now have no excuse for approving the project, which would transport the carbon-intense crude from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries.

There has been growing unrest among many of Obama's supporters, who are upset that Organizing for Action--the advocacy group affiliated with the president--is not taking a position on the pipeline. The State Department is in the midst of conducting an environmental review of Keystone XL, after which it must determine whether the project serves the national interest.

The president is only required to weigh in on TransCanada's request for a permit if one federal agency challenges the State Department's final decision.

"Given that none of the chief arguments being put forth by supporters of the pipeline remain standing, NextGen Action is going to be working with our friends and allies who are opposed to the development of Keystone XL to intensify our efforts in communicating what is the right policy choice to your Administration," states the letter, which will appear in POLITICO Tuesday. "On June 20, in Washington D.C. we will announce a campaign that will specifically focus on communicating to those Americans across the country that supported your re-election in 2012."

Steyer is a generous donor to the president as well as Democrats in general: his immediate family are responsible for more than $1.1 million in donations to Democratic candidates since 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In March, he and his wife Kat hosted a fundraiser headlining the president at their San Francisco home for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The White House could not immediately be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

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Sean Sullivan | June 3, 2013