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Tom Steyer left Farallon Capital Management and now devotes his time to talking about climate change. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
Tom Steyer left Farallon Capital Management and now devotes his time to talking about climate change. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Meet the U.S. billionaire who wants to kill the Keystone XL pipeline Add to ...

“There was no reason to slip the rug out from these very large, substantial, high-wage manufacturers … and heap all these new costs onto them, and then call it some tax loophole, which it wasn’t,” said Gino DiCaro, vice-president of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, which fought Mr. Steyer on both ballot initiatives. “He clearly succeeded. He has lots of money and got his message out there.”

Mr. DiCaro was left with a grudging admiration for his deep-pocketed rival. “When he gets behind something, he doesn’t quit … You can say we congratulate him on his success, because he’s definitely good at what he does.”

In Massachusetts, Mr. Steyer is targeting his fellow Democrat, Mr. Lynch, a congressman seeking the nomination to replace the former senator, now Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Lynch is pro-Keystone while his chief opponent, front-runner and fellow Democratic congressman Ed Markey, is against the proposed pipeline. The positions are largely moot, as Keystone doesn’t come anywhere near Massachusetts, but Mr. Steyer says climate decisions affect all 50 states. He has bought ads, hired a roving billboard and made the allegation that Mr. Lynch was a Canadiens fan (a play on him being a fan, also, of Canadian oil). Mr. Lynch’s camp called that “outrageous,” and has fired back.

“[It] leaves us to wonder if the money makes him that arrogant, or was he born that way?” said Mr. Ferson, his spokesman, adding the congressman will support whatever Keystone decision the President makes. “But that’s not good enough for Tom Steyer, who made all of his money off of BP stock? It’s the height of hypocrisy.”

TransCanada Corp., the company behind the proposed Keystone XL project, has also fired back. “If Mr. Steyer is truly concerned about climate change, he should focus his money and time on much larger sources of greenhouse gases than the oil sands industry, such as coal-fired power generation in the United States,” spokesman Grady Semmens said in a statement.

When these critiques are presented to Mr. Steyer, he pauses.

“Of course coal is a huge issue here, in the United States and around the world. And I don’t disagree with TransCanada on the need for us to dramatically reduce our usage of coal,” said Mr. Steyer, who last month spoke at a Los Angeles anti-coal rally alongside Mr. Gore. “But I think the biggest thing that we need to understand is that we need a different way of thinking about energy, and honestly this pipeline is an example of the wrong way to think about energy.”

Rumours, meanwhile, have swirled about Mr. Steyer’s political future. He says he has no plans to seek office. And he might be more valuable to Mr. Obama that way, working on climate change to shift public opinion and giving, he hopes, the “leeway” for Mr. Obama to nix the pipeline. Or, at least, that was Mr. Steyer’s pitch to the President during Wednesday’s fundraiser.

“We said we will go out and do that work for you, because we know you understand these issues and we’d like you to be able to do the right thing,” he said.

Farallon’s holdings, as of its last Securities and Exchange Commission filing, include Kinder Morgan, which is pushing to expand a pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver; Nexen, one of Calgary’s largest energy companies; and Potash Corp., the Saskatchewan mining giant. Farallon owns stakes in CB&I, a leading pipeline and oil platform manufacturer, and Union Pacific, one of many railroads moving more and more oil with existing pipelines full. Farallon also still holds stock in BP. Mr. Steyer left Farallon at the end of last year, but all these were purchased under his watch. He still holds a stake, saying he’s asked for his portfolio to be greened.

“I really, honestly, have tried to think about that hard, and square my behaviour to my beliefs. Everybody gets to decide whether I’ve succeeded,” he said. He says he prefers not to read the press, but does take encouragement from family. His eldest child, a 24-year-old working at an NGO in Tanzania, cheers on his Keystone fight – “an enormous motivator for me,” Mr. Steyer said, allegations of hypocrisy notwithstanding.

“I’m going to try and be straightforward. It weirds me out to hear people say either I’m terrific or I’m a total snake,” he said. “I’d like to think I’m an okay guy.”

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