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Climate Change

Tom Steyer Battles Green Frenemies in the Pacific Northwest

Billionaire anti-carbon crusader squares off against proponents of a rival proposal in Washington state.
Tom Steyer couldn't strike a deal with proponents of a rival carbon-reduction plan.

Tom Steyer couldn't strike a deal with proponents of a rival carbon-reduction plan.

Photographer: Jahi Chikwendiu/Washington Post

Billionaire Tom Steyer went big on the 2014 elections. He poured more than $65 million into a super PAC, NextGen Climate, with the goal of electing candidates willing to support limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The results weren’t great: Four of the seven U.S. Senate and gubernatorial candidates NextGen backed across the country lost. In Washington state, where the group put $1.3 million into five legislative races, hoping to deliver a majority to climate-minded Democratic Governor Jay Inslee, not a single candidate won.

That hasn’t stopped NextGen from getting involved in the 2016 elections. In November the group contributed $80,000 to the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, which counts many of Washington state’s largest unions and environmental groups as members. The alliance plans to begin gathering signatures for a voter initiative that would require the largest polluters to pay a mitigation fee for each ton of greenhouse gas released, and invest the proceeds in clean energy. The idea echoes NextGen’s ads in presidential primary states urging a shift in U.S. energy production to 50 percent renewable resources by 2030. “It’s the most extraordinary coming-together that I have ever seen” in 25 years, says Gregg Small, president of the alliance’s governing board and executive director of Climate Solutions, a Seattle-based nonprofit.