California billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer made a serious move into New Mexico politics last year. Using the same tactics he developed for Nevada, Steyer helped Democrats win control of the state legislature. And just like Nevada, his spending and its impact on state politics have gone mostly unnoticed so far.
Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, gave $65,000 to Democrats running for the New Mexico state legislature and Secretary of State’s office, according to state campaign finance records. A national environmental group with close ties to Steyer – the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), based in Washington, D.C. – put another $185,000 into New Mexico campaigns last year.
The spending was focused on six key contests in the battle for control of the New Mexico state legislature, and a seventh race for Secretary of State. It paid off: Democrats now control the state legislature and hold the Secretary of State’s office. And in the legislature, lawmakers are pushing legislation to dramatically expand the state’s renewable energy mandate and penalize oil and gas producers – two major priorities for Steyer.
...Steyer’s campaigning with the LCV and other green groups was even more aggressive in the 2016 election. He lobbied candidates to endorse a 50 percent renewable energy mandate for 2030, and according to the New York Times, supporting the mandate was a condition of the billionaire’s financial assistance. In 2016, Steyer also campaigned with Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and the leader of the “keep it in the ground” coalition, which opposes all development of oil, gas and coal and any infrastructure projects tied to these energy sources.
...Two of the candidates backed by Steyer and the LCV – State Rep. Nathan Small (D) and State Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D) – are sponsoring legislation to quadruple the state’s existing renewable energy mandate of 20 percent by 2020 for investor-owned utilities. The bill, SB312, would impose a new renewable mandate of 50 percent by 2030 – the same target pushed by Steyer – and 80 percent by 2040. Another national group with close ties to Steyer – McKibben’s 350.org – has also been working on the renewable-mandate bill.
At the same time, Democrats in the legislature are pushing a bill – SB307 – viewed as hostile to New Mexico’s oil and gas industry, which generates a major share of the state’s budget revenue. The measure would dramatically increase fines against oil and gas companies, but critics say it goes too far. “I would really like to see New Mexico encourage the industry and not try to drive it out of the state,” Carla Sonntag, president of the New Mexico Business Coalition, told the Associated Press.
Simon Lomax is the managing editor of Western Wire. A former wire-service and trade-press reporter, he now works in Denver as an adviser to pro-energy and free market groups.