Mountain States

Tom Steyer’s Political Firm Pressures Colorado Oil & Gas Task Force

A political firm with close ties to San Francisco billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer has emerged as one of the biggest players in the anti-energy campaign to lobby Colorado’s oil and gas task force and state lawmakers.

OnSight Public Affairs launched the “Fracking Front Lines” campaign last week on behalf of the national environmental group Clean Water Fund. OnSight also works for Steyer – who spent more than $7 million on last year’s U.S. Senate race in Colorado – through a group called NextGen Climate. Last year, Steyer held talks with millionaire Boulder Congressman Jared Polis about splitting the cost of two anti-energy measures for the statewide ballot, until the San Francisco billionaire decided NextGen Climate would try to save U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D) instead.

The new OnSight campaign, timed to coincide with this week’s task force meeting in Greeley, argues “fracking is infringing on our freedoms and disrupting our lives.” This claim is supported on the campaign’s website with nine personal stories, and urges the public to “[t]ell our lawmakers some things shouldn’t be fracked.” The campaign is also taking part in a protest outside today’s task force meeting in Greeley, alongside activists carrying “Ban Fracking Now” signs from the national anti-energy group Food & Water Watch:

CWA and FWW protest (2)

The campaign appears to be an effort to counter the strong support oil and gas development received from citizens, civic leaders and the business community during four previous task force meetings in Denver, Durango, Loveland and Rifle. It also tries to undermine the message task force members have received from a clear majority of local government officials in Colorado – the existing regulatory framework oil and gas development in Colorado is working.

The strategy is curious because the Clean Water Fund is a national group, not a local one, and it’s based in Washington, D.C., not Greeley. Plus, the Clean Water Fund and its closely affiliated group, Clean Water Action, took a huge hit to its credibility after joining other “ban fracking” activists in baseless fear mongering during Colorado’s historic floods in September 2013. As Denver Post editorial page editor Vincent Carroll wrote in a column titled “The shameless use of Colorado’s floods to attack drilling”:

“[A]nti-fracking groups swiveled into combat mode almost immediately, raising alarms about the quality of planning by regulators and energy companies. It would be inspiring to see representatives of Clean Water Action and Earthworks, who were quoted in a Denver Post article, offer constructive ideas for the next epochal deluge if their credibility weren’t undercut by pervasive anti-drilling bias. Clean Water Action, for example, has supported fracking bans or moratoriums in several states as well as anti-fracking events here. Its idea of sound planning is apparently an industry shutdown.”

But the real news from the launch of the Fracking Front Lines campaign is the political firm chosen to run it. Besides Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate, OnSight has a slew of high-dollar accounts, including Gov. Hickenlooper’s reelection campaign and the failed Yes on 66 campaign, which raised more than $10 million from donors, including billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a failed effort to hike state taxes by $1 billion a year. OnSight also worked for the $20 million campaign of former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who failed to win reelection to a second term last year.

This confirms once more that the campaign against oil and gas development in Colorado isn’t a “David vs. Goliath” battle. The activists routinely make this claim to downplay their connections to national political groups and the millionaires and billionaires who fund them. But when Tom Steyer’s political firm shows up on the side of the activists, it shows the “ban fracking” forces are a Goliath, too. They just don’t want Coloradans to know how much money they have, where it comes from, and the fringe anti-energy agenda it’s promoting against the interests of the Colorado economy and working families across our state.


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