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"Tom Steyer Is the Devil"

A dispatch from CPAC, a conference of climate change deniers

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Tom Steyer, the Democratic billionaire donor, didn't get a lot for his money in the 2014 midterms, but the $67 million he spent last year did win him a title previously held by Al Gore: The Most Hated Environmentalist in Conservative America.

For proof, consider this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at Maryland's National Harbor: An entire panel on Thursday was devoted to “What Tom Steyer Won’t Tell You” about climate change. Congressman Bill Flores of Texas, one of the five speakers in front of a few dozen people in an overfilled room, led a PowerPoint presentation detailing what Steyer refuses, apparently, to tell us.

Flores attacked the EPA, particularly its proposed ozone standards and carbon pollution cap on power plants. These regulations, on balance, create jobs. Yes, they suppress some coal jobs, but the industry is already shrinking due to the natural gas boom. Meanwhile, the EPA’s policies create jobs in renewable energy and the installation of pollution controls, outnumbering the losses in the coal sector. Conservatives often overstate the costs of regulations, hence Flores's claim that Obama is on the hook for “trillions” of dollars in economic damage.

Flores never mentioned the economic benefits of improving public health by cutting coal pollution and shifting to clean energy. Those tend to outnumber the cost: The EPA's climate rules on power plants could save $55 billion per year by 2030, versus $9 billion in costs. Flores’s other points are hardly worth arguing: If climate change is junk science, then 97 percent of scientists are part of the ploy. That means the only scientists who conservatives find trustworthy on climate change are paid directly by the fossil fuel industry. Yet these facts fail the “smell test,” Flores claims. He might try living next to an unregulated coal plant to see what that smells like.

The panel insisted there has been no climate change for the past 18 years (a debunked point) and even hinted that many of the world's problems, like ISIS, can be laid at the feet of a president who's too distracted by climate change. Pointing to the Obama administration’s emphasis on climate change, Myron Ebell, the Competitive Enterprise Institute's director of environmental policy, said, “This might explain why we have these problems around the world, because we have a secretary of state and president who are focused on global warming and not on what they consider to be lesser problems.” 

Other speakers included representatives from the Institute for Liberty, Heritage Foundation, and Murray Energy. Murray Energy might sound familiar: It's the company behind many of the lawsuits the EPA has to fend off, most recently one against the EPA’s carbon regulations on coal-fired power plants. The company’s leadership firmly aligns with Republicans, going so far as coercing its employees to donate to Mitt Romney in 2012 and other GOP political candidates

In its own slideshow presentation, Murray Energy claimed that “Tom Steyer, Al Gore and their ilk fabricate about global warming and now climate change.” Why would Steyer and Gore lie? A CPAC attendee from Ohio had a theory: How, he asked, does Steyer benefit economically from his climate change agenda?

“Tom Steyer is a billionaire based in California,” Institute for Liberty President Andrew Langer said. “He argues for greater regulation on his competitors and forces to get subsidies for his green energy boondoggles.”

Meanwhile, no one seemed too concerned with how Murray Energy stands to benefit economically from fighting climate change regulations. They were too busy demonizing Steyer—literally, in one instance. Janet, a fifth-year CPAC attendee and resident of Washington state, told me after the panel, "Tom Steyer is the devil."