For years, Mr. Steyer, a billionaire San Francisco hedge fund manager, assiduously maintained a low profile while becoming a major donor to Democratic candidates. That changed in 2010 when he led the successful fight to defeat Proposition 23, a California ballot measure backed by two Texas oil companies and a company controlled by Charles G. and David H. Koch, the secretive billionaire brothers and bankrollers of conservative causes.
Thomas F. Steyer
Thomas F. Steyer
Proposition 23 would have effectively derailed the state’s landmark global warming law, which would have been a big setback for California’s blooming green technology industry. Mr. Steyer, the founder of Farallon Capital Management, is the main financial backer of Greener Capital, a venture firm that invests in renewable energy start-ups.
Now Mr. Steyer appears to be itching to take on the Koch brothers and their supporters as Republican lawmakers seek to limit the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. “As an investor who one might say is insanely obsessed with energy and its generation and use around the world, it seems crazy to me we would roll back science-based clean air standards because there are skillful political operatives and wealthy political donors who really want to get rid of E.P.A. regulations,” he said in a speech Monday evening at the Cleantech Forum conference in San Francisco. “That seems nuts to me.”
While Mr. Steyer did not mention the Koch brothers directly in his speech, he assailed their support for Proposition 23 during the campaign.
Mr. Steyer, who said he had spent time consulting with the Obama administration after last November’s election, laid out a political strategy to focus on swing states and promote environmental regulation as a boon for job creation, drawing on lessons from the battle over Proposition 23.
“It’s all about public health and clean air,” he said. “It’s all about creating new jobs and really what we’re fighting is self-interested dirty energy companies.”
He noted that opponents of a Democrats’ failed efforts to pass climate change legislation last year had gone state by state to talk about potential job losses from capping greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our strategy going forward as a group is that we have to have answers on the state and local level,” Mr. Steyer said. “The idea that we would change the way energy is generated and used in the United States without engaging the American people locally in a real way seems to me to be wrong.”
Mr. Steyer said he had consulted with Vernon Jordan, the civil rights leader and adviser to former President Bill Clinton, to gain a better understanding of how the civil rights movement organized its campaigns.
“I asked, ‘How did you guys do it? How did you change the way Americans think about civil rights, something that nobody was anxious to engage on as far as I can tell but where there was a gross need for change, just as there is here,’ ” Mr. Steyer said.
He cautioned that California now needs to prove it can deliver on its promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions while achieving economic growth.
“It’s incredibly important that we succeed here,” he said. “Most of all we have to have a workable regulatory climate. It’s absolutely essential that people feel that not only can they have the headquarters of their clean tech company here but they can have workers here, they can have manufacturing here.”