Colorado Anti-Fracking Activism: A Game for Millionaires and Billionaires (Like Tom Steyer)

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer is reportedly interested in bankrolling “ban fracking” activists in Colorado. This is just the latest evidence of national environmental groups and the ultra-rich playing extreme political games with our economy, state budget and the livelihoods of working families.

Six months ago, “ban fracking” activists openly mocked the suggestion that national environmental groups backed by wealthy donors were behind several local-level campaigns against oil and gas development in Northern Colorado. They called it “laughable” and “obviously ridiculous.”

Now, the liberal political blog Colorado Pols says Tom Steyer – the hedge-fund manager who has pledged to spend and raise $100 million this election cycle to advance his environmental agenda – is the latest Big Green donor to consider funding anti-fracking activism in Colorado:

“Colorado Pols has learned that representatives for Tom Steyer were in Colorado … to discuss Steyer’s potential involvement in both the Senate race and a possible ballot measure related to concerns about fracking safety.”

Meanwhile, Energy & Environment News reports (sub req’d):

“Advisers to Steyer’s NextGen Climate nonprofit, which maintains an affiliated super political action committee that can raise and spend unlimited funds, visited Colorado last week for ‘a series of meetings with political, community and enviro leaders in the state,’ according to a source with knowledge of the group’s schedule.”

Steyer’s outreach to anti-fracking activists follows the money already poured into Colorado by deep-pocketed individuals and special-interest groups who oppose domestic oil and natural gas production.

Before Steyer, there was performance artist Yoko Ono, widow to The Beatles’ John Lennon and estimated to be worth roughly $500 million. Ono’s activist group, Artists Against Fracking, co-founded Frack Free Colorado, which in turn helped create Local Control Colorado to push statewide anti-fracking ballot measures. Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo, whose net worth is estimated at $20 million, also helped create Frack Free Colorado through his activist group, Water Defense.

Working hand-in-glove with Artists Against Fracking and Water Defense is Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based lobby group with annual revenues of almost $12 million. According to the Colorado Statesman, Food & Water Watch is one of the “major players behind the anti-fracking movement” and “played a key role in supporting initiatives to ban or delay fracking in local communities” at the ballot box in November 2013.

In fact, Food & Water Watch has quietly – but very firmly – taken credit for orchestrating the anti-fracking campaign in Colorado for years. In 2012, Food & Water Watch declared Northern Colorado “ground zero” for the group’s national campaign against hydraulic fracturing and provided “generous help” and “advice and support” to an anti-fracking campaign in Longmont. In 2013, when oil and gas bans passed in Boulder, Broomfield, Lafayette and Fort Collins, Food & Water Watch claimed credit for its work with an election night press release and a fundraising e-mail that bragged:

“[W]e changed the game on fracking in Colorado by stopping this dangerous industrial process in Fort Collins, Broomfield, Boulder and Lafayette…”

Taking credit for these outcomes is how a standing political campaign like Food & Water Watch stays in business, because it tells the group’s donors how their money is being spent. One of Food & Water Watch’s most dependable donors is the Park Foundation, a $335 million group run by the heirs of media baron Roy Park Sr. The Park Foundation funds the “rock stars of the anti-drilling movement,” including Gasland director Josh Fox, according to E&E News.

The Ithaca, New York-based foundation has given $6 million to the “ban fracking” movement, according to Inside Philanthropy. For Park Foundation president Adelaide Park Gomer, daughter of the late Roy Park, this is a personal battle. In a 2011 speech to environmental activists, she said the goal of the Park Foundation’s “ban fracking” work was to keep oil and gas development away from Ithaca, the rest of New York, and eventually ban it across America:

“Nothing short of a total ban can save us from this unfolding tragedy! We believe that New York must become the first state to ban fracking, taking a leadership role that the rest of the country can then rally behind.”

Last, but not least, is U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), estimated to be worth somewhere between $68 million and $200 million. Like Park, Polis is a wealthy person upset by the thought of oil and gas development occurring within sight of anywhere they live and play. Polis started pumping money into anti-fracking activism because he was angry about three oil wells being drilled across the road from his vacation home in Weld County. Polis, in turn, has angered many of his fellow Democrats who fear the political consequences of the millionaire Congressman rolling out the red carpet for environmental activist groups whose anti-energy agenda is much too extreme for Colorado.

Colorado’s “ban fracking” activists have successfully misled the public, elected officials and the news media into believing they are just a loose coalition of poorly-funded local citizens who represent the state’s pragmatic political center. So far, they have laughed off the mounting evidence that the “ban fracking” campaign is almost totally supported by fringe environmental groups, clueless celebrities and ultra-rich activists who represent a very narrow and very extreme set of special interests. Not only is the “ban fracking” agenda too extreme for the sensible middle of Colorado politics, it has even been judged too extreme by the leaders of the state’s Democratic Party, including Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Activist donors like Steyer, Ono, Ruffalo, Park and Polis are so rich they will never feel the consequences of effectively shutting down domestic oil and natural gas production in America – which is what a ban on hydraulic fracturing would do. They have made their money already, so they don’t need a job to pay the mortgage, buy health insurance, or save for college. Skyrocketing energy prices won’t stop them from heating their homes in winter, cooling their homes in summer, driving wherever they wish or flying from coast to coast and continent to continent.

Colorado’s working families – whether their paycheck comes from the oil and gas industry or not – do not have that kind of luxury. They have to make ends meet, and a lot of times, it’s a struggle. The “ban fracking” agenda will only make that struggle even harder, and that’s why Coloradans deserve to know who’s really behind the “ban fracking” campaign, what these people really want, and what it will really mean for our state.

In the meantime, we can only hope Tom Steyer and Jared Polis think twice before they bankroll the permanent expansion of this angry and extreme strain of environmental campaigning into Colorado. When an industry supports more than 110,000 Colorado jobs, almost $30 billion of economic activity, $1.6 billion in tax revenue and energy bills 23 percent lower than the national average, responsible leaders don’t help political activists who are trying to wipe that industry out.

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