‘End Coal’ Billionaire Steyer Made Money Off Coal in June 2014

Media ignore double standard, hold him up as antidote to Koch brothers.

“Green billionaire” Tom Steyer has gone “clean.” He’s apparently kicked his coal habit – for all of 15 days. Up until June 30, 2014, Steyer was still making money off of fossil fuel investments through Farallon Capital Management (which he founded).

Yet, to the media Steyer “has become the environmental hero he set out to be.” ABC World News with Diane Sawyer on April 3 portrayed Steyer as the left’s answer to the “secretive” libertarian Koch brothers. While Andrea Mitchell on NBC “Nightly News” on Jan. 31 let Steyer’s criticisms of the Keystone Pipeline stand uncontested. The Washington Post dubbed him a hero, the left’s “own billionaire donor to counter the powerful Koch brothers on the right.” Tom Steyer had pledged $100 million to Democratic candidates this election cycle, to ensure that the Keystone Pipeline doesn’t get approved.

That pledge is dwarfed in comparison to Farallon’s investments in coal with Steyer at the helm. A July 4 New York Times article pointed out that Farallon had been heavily invested in coal.  These investments actually “increased their annual production by 70 million tons since they received money from the hedge fund.” The same article noted that Farallon had “pumped hundreds of millions of dollars” into the coal industry. The Times cited “corporate records, government data and interviews with industry experts” to support its case.

Steyer wrote in a Politico op-ed published on July 14 that he divested from Farallon because “I could not reconcile my personal values with managing a fund that by mandate is invested in all sectors of the global economy, including fossil fuels.”

Despite making money off of coal until last month, Steyer is a huge defender of proposed EPA coal regulations which could cause the loss of thousands of jobs and spike energy bills for many Americans.  According to a June 8 US News & World Report article, these regulations “will slam the coal industry so hard that hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost, and electric rates will skyrocket 11 percent to over 23 percent, according to a new study based on government data."

But Steyer apparently sees no problem with this. “Make no mistake,” the billionaire said on his NextGen Climate Action website, “taking on big oil and special interests is certainly no small feat. But I saw then, and believe now, that Americans are up for the task.”

American Electric Power (AEP), one of the largest U.S. utilities which delivers electricity to more than 5 million people, said that in order to comply with the new EPA regulations it would need to retire 6,000 megawatts of coal-generated power in the next couple of years.

AEP added that it would also have to shutter five plants (two in W.Va., two in Ohio and one in Va.) entirely and retrofit others. This would reportedly costing $6 billion to $8 billion and a net loss of 600 power plant jobs, not including the ripple effect through the industry and affected communities. Higher energy prices are regressive and hurt the poorest the most.

— Mike Ciandella is Research Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Mike Ciandella on Twitter.