| BOSTON/WASHINGTON, March 20
BOSTON/WASHINGTON, March 20 A former hedge fund
manager turned environmental activist who opposes the Keystone
XL pipeline has waded into the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race,
threatening to undermine a pledge by the two Democratic
candidates to reject outside money.
California billionaire Tom Steyer has called on Democratic
Representative Stephen Lynch to abandon his support for the
proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude from
Canada's oil sands to refineries in Texas.
The Obama administration is expected to make a final
decision on the TransCanada Corp pipeline late this
summer. A permit has been pending for more than four years while
environmental activists have staged protests against it.
Pipeline supporters in Congress have introduced bills to push
the project through more quickly.
Steyer, who stepped down last year from the hedge fund he
founded to focus on encouraging alternative energy development,
called on Lynch to reverse his stance on the pipeline by Friday.
Otherwise, Steyer promised "an aggressive public education
campaign" aimed at torpedoing Lynch's bid to win the Democratic
Senate primary on April 30.
Lynch and other supporters say the $5.3 billion Keystone XL
project - which would transport oil down the middle of the
United States, nowhere near Massachusetts - would create jobs
and unlock a valuable energy source.
Opponents blast the pipeline as a source of the greenhouse
gases that are contributing to global climate change. Lynch's
Democratic rival, Representative Edward Markey, the ranking
member of the House Natural Resources Committee, is an outspoken
opponent of the Keystone project.
But Markey has also urged candidates in the primary to
reject money or support from interest groups outside the state.
He has already drawn criticism for Steyer's pledge to go after
Lynch, and has urged the billionaire to stay out of the race.
Markey, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in
1976, is the longest-serving member of the New England
Congressional delegation. Lynch, a former ironworker, has been
in the House since 2001. The primary is a run up to the June 25
special election for the Senate seat left open when Senator John
Kerry recently became U.S. Secretary of State.
"Climate change is on the ballot on April 30 as it never has
been before," said the open letter signed this week by Steyer
and four activists.
Steyer's letter urged Lynch to switch his position on
Keystone or provide assurances from TransCanada and refiners
that all oil shipped on the pipeline would stay in the United
States. Environmentalists and some economists say much of the
oil sent through the line could get exported because U.S. oil
production has boomed while domestic demand has stagnated.
While Massachusetts is not an energy-producing state,
environmental issues resonate with its liberal-leaning voters,
especially those who vote in Democratic primaries.
Lynch's campaign dismissed Steyer's threat.
"This letter reads like something out of a James Bond film -
a billionaire making threats and issuing ultimatums," said
spokesman Conor Yunits. "Congressman Lynch supports an
all-of-the-above energy strategy, and he is not going to respond
to threats and ultimatums."
'PEOPLE'S PLEDGE' AT RISK
Last year, Steyer spent more than $30 million in his home
state of California on Proposition 39, a measure to close a tax
loophole and funnel money to projects that create clean energy
His involvement in the Massachusetts race could cause
headaches for front-runner Markey, who early in the campaign
called on all contenders to honor a "People's Pledge," intended
to keep outside groups from funding attack ads.
That agreement was modeled on one that former Senator Scott
Brown, a Republican, and his successor Elizabeth Warren agreed
to in last year's Massachusetts' Senate race, which Warren won.
All three Republican contenders in the 2013 race -- former
U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, state Representative Daniel
Winslow and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez -- rejected that
proposal, noting that they not did have the established
organizations and campaign war chests of their Democratic
Markey's political organization had $3 million in cash on
hand as of Dec. 31, while Lynch's group had $760,206, according
to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks campaign finance disclosures.
None of the Republican contenders have yet filed details of
their campaign finances, according to the database.
If an outsider buys ads to attack Markey or Lynch, each
candidate has pledged that his campaign will make a donation
equal to half the value of the ads to a charity of his
Steyer believes he can campaign against Lynch, without
running afoul of the pledge, a spokesman said.
It "leaves plenty of room for field operations, for phones,
for targeting voters for other types of non-conventional
communications, for the release of reports, for activities on
college campuses," said Chris Lehane, Steyer's spokesman.
Even that could look bad for Markey, who an early poll
showed with a lead both in the primary and special election.
"I don't think that either Markey or Lynch want to be in the
position of arguing technicalities," said Peter Ubertaccio, a
professor of political science at Stonehill College, in Easton,
Massachusetts. "If outside money is going to be spent against
one of them then the other has to pay up."
Without specifically naming Steyer, Markey's campaign called
on his supporters to honor the pledge.
"Ed Markey categorically rejects any third-party expenditure
against Stephen Lynch that would violate the People's Pledge
they both have signed, and urges groups and individuals on both
sides to respect the pledge to keep outside advertisements off
Massachusetts airwaves," said Campaign Manager Sarah Benzing.
CONGRESS SEEKS CONTROL OF KEYSTONE
Opposition by environmentalists like Steyer to the 800,000
barrel-per-day pipeline project have threatened further delays
in the administration's decision on the pipeline. Bills in both
the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and in the
Democratic-led Senate would take the final decision on the
project's future out of the administration's hands.
Previous efforts in the Senate to take control have fallen
short, but sponsors say they have more votes now that
TransCanada rerouted the line through sensitive ecological areas
in Nebraska. Obama could veto any bill that passes, but he may
find that difficult if senators add it to must-pass legislation.
Steyer's spokesman said his campaign planned to carry
through with its threat regardless of the pledge.
"The campaign will focus on everything that is consistent
within the parameters of the pledge, but I think you will see
some innovative and creative activities taking place out there,"
said Lehane. "There are now a bunch of ways that you can get in
front of a large number of eyeballs that will be completely
consistent with the pledge."