Tom Steyer Trumps James Varney

Yesterday, the Times-Picayune’s conservative columnist James Varney wrote a very solid piece describing how the Hard Left’s efforts to enforce their worldview on energy policy are running up against electoral necessity in places like Louisiana…

That last pipeline, of course, is the Keystone XL and at the moment it has the Democrats and their Louisiana Senate incumbent Mary Landrieu in a bind. Just about everyone recognizes the pipeline’s extension as a good thing, and that includesRepublicans, a majority of congressional Democrats and landslide popular support that stands at 65 percent.

Jobs, more energy, widespread public backing — who could be against it? Well, that would be the Democrats’ left wing that comprises the party leadership. Landrieu would like to stand out with the bigger group, but she is also bound to that extremist elite.

As Landrieu’s chief opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, never tires of reminding audiences that Landrieu has voted with President Obama more than 9 times out of 10. On the biggest issues, Landrieu has toed the party line rather than the one many of her constituents would prefer.

Of course, President Obama’s lines are famously fluid, and the one he’s drawn with the XL Pipeline is no exception. Two years ago this month, Obama stood before anapplauding crowd in Cushing, Okla., and declared his administration embraced an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. When it came to drilling and pipeline construction — those things that curse people with more energy, jobs, profits and tax revenue — Obama vowed to cut through red tape and bureaucratic malaise and make it happen.

That was before his last election, however. Since then, given the flexibility re-election provided, Obama has adopted the more rigid position of radical environmentalists who, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, act as if the XL Pipeline spells planetary doom.

Consequently, Landrieu and her XL support are stuck in something of a political tar pit. That’s where the other pipelines are coming into play.

Among those pipelines Varney describes is the one belonging to former hedge-fund magnate and budding enviro-thug Tom Steyer, whose dance with Louisiana’s senior senator appeared at the time of Varney’s writing to be over…

Team Landrieu must have breathed a big sigh of relief when liberal billionaire Tom Steyer backed away. Steyer announced he would include reasonable Democrats among the targets of his $100-plus million political ad campaign on global warming. But he then fortuitously dropped Landrieu from his cross-hairs.

Steyer made his money, in part, by investing in alternative energy schemes, so it makes perfect sense for him to want to make it much more expensive for people to live and work. He and his political machinations smack of the same qualities that, we are told, animate the dreaded Koch Brothers.

Varney’s conclusion was that if Steyer would leave Landrieu alone and Obama were to officially nix the Keystone XL pipeline, politically that would give Landrieu the maximum amount of space to play the issue in front of Louisiana’s voters – specifically, that she could then say Obama’s decision makes a big point of why she’s needed atop the Senate Energy Committee and why she should be re-elected.

All of which made good sense.

But Steyer didn’t behave himself, and while Varney was busy analyzing the situation on the ground, the billionaire lefty was busy digging trenches through the field. The Hill reported last night on an interesting bit of communication from Steyer to Landrieu…

Keystone XL: Tom Steyer is pressuring the new chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Mary Landrieu, on Keystone XL.

Steyer sent a letter to the Louisiana Democrat on Tuesday asking her to subpoena TransCanada executives to have them testify on where the refined oil carried by the pipeline will go. TransCanada has already testified before Congress on Keystone, but Steyer says previous testimony isn’t good enough.

“We, of course, believe the entire public would benefit from a real hearing on Keystone so that a number of issues could be explored, including where is the refined oil going; what is the exact nature of the ownership interest in the project by the Chinese companies,” among other issues, Chris Lehane, an adviser to Steyer, said in an email.

TransCanada officials have said 100 percent of the oil transported to Gulf refineries is under contract to be refined in the U.S.

That doesn’t exactly qualify as leaving Landrieu alone.

Understand that the Canadian tar sands oil Keystone will transport to Gulf Coast refineries is of the same heavy, sour grade as the Venezuelan oil many of them already process. The whole point of building Keystone XL from Canada to Beaumont and Lake Charles is to plug that oil into existing refinery infrastructure. Recognize, if you will, that it has been decades since a new refinery has been built in this country – the chances of changing that aren’t great. Recognize also that America is the single best market for refined petroleum products; though we do export things like gasoline, for the most part when we refine oil here we consume the products here.

And yet Steyer’s people are trying to push the narrative that Keystone XL does nothing for American energy security because all that Canadian oil will be getting shipped overseas.

It’s a laughable assertion, and you have to be fully on board with the loony-left enviro worldview to believe any of it, but Steyer is obviously committed to it. And he has friendly senators with D’s next to their names who are willing to play. Among the members of the Senate Energy Committee are Al Franken, Bernie Sanders, Maria Cantwell and Debbie Stabenow, none of whom are particularly friendly to conventional energy sources.

So Landrieu has been put to a question of sorts. Does she agree to bring the TransCanada people in and put on the circus that Steyer wants, giving the lefties on her committee the chance to spout questions he supplies accusing them of shipping tar sands oil to foreign markets while scarring our landscape with metal pipe and the ever-present prospect of a gooey leak? Or does she ignore Steyer and run the risk of having him make good on his prior threat to run ads against her in Louisiana?

Landrieu has already said Steyer would probably help her if he did that. Does anybody believe this? Sure, Tom Steyer, for all his money, couldn’t get elected dog catcher down here – only a very small number of people would be influenced by much of what he says, and seeing as though Landrieu’s opponents are all Republicans who would be even more unfriendly to his position than Landrieu is he’s probably not in a position to drive her voters elsewhere with a left-wing enviro-nut appeal.

But there are enviro-nuts in Louisiana. And the Louisiana Bucket Brigade/Russell Honore’ Green Army crowd are universally Mary Landrieu supporters, for lack of anybody else to vote for. The percentage of the vote she might see stay home if Steyer were to buy them up and make trouble for her isn’t large, but when she’s already down in the polls and needs every supporter she can unearth on Election Day, it’s not good to have an out-of-state billionaire like Steyer swinging away at her voters.

The thought this might help her is based on the idea that if Tom Steyer is beating on her then folks in the oil patch will like her more. Maybe that’s true, or maybe it just creates the impression that Landrieu has so badly mismanaged the energy/environmental issue that nobody wants to vote for her.

In any event, the ball is in Landrieu’s court right now, but Steyer isn’t demanding a TransCanada hearing so that he can just go away. If Sanders and Franken and the gang can embarrass TransCanada officials that isn’t going to be the end of it and if Landrieu denies the hearing Steyer’s street cred with the Hard Left will be at stake.

And that means while Varney’s reasoning yesterday was valid, he lost a big piece of the ground on which it stood. The enviro crowd isn’t going to give Mary a free pass and a platform to pose as the oil industry’s chief defender without cost.

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