Steyer and Bloomberg diverge on fracking

Source: Elana Schor, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg today diverged from his ally in politically active environmentalism, Tom Steyer, on the volatile question of whether hydraulic fracturing of shale gas can safely help slow the march of climate change.

In a New York Times op-ed published today, Bloomberg and Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp staked out a middle ground on fracking that emphasizes “strong rules and enforcement” in order to mitigate legitimate local resistance to a fossil fuel extraction method that “is indeed lowering energy costs, creating new jobs, boosting domestic manufacturing and delivering some measurable environmental benefits.” In his own October column on the topic, Steyer called for tabling any discussion about fracking’s emissions upside until oil and gas producers begin “paying their fair share” in taxes and royalties.The palpable daylight between Bloomberg and Steyer promises to follow the latter billionaire as he mulls where to spend upward of $50 million this year on congressional and gubernatorial races where climate change can prove a singular, vote-moving issue. The Californian openly resists the notion that he is becoming greens’ answer to politically savvy conservative oil magnates Charles and David Koch, but a top aide to Steyer told E&E Daily last year that a “fairer comparison” of his work is Bloomberg’s advocacy spending on gun control (E&E Daily, April 24, 2013).

Bloomberg and Steyer are also partners, with former GOP Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, in a project dubbed Risky Business that aims to produce nonpartisan modeling of climate change’s economic risks this summer (Greenwire, Oct. 1, 2013). All three men are alumni of Goldman Sachs & Co., whose former co-chairman and ex-Treasury chief Robert Rubin is a member of the “risk committee” engaged to vet the climate project’s final report.

Steyer’s op-ed on fracking last year marked something of a change in his position on the broader merits of the technique credited with powering the nation’s current shale bonanza. He helped fund a $2.3 million study released in September by Krupp’s group and the University of Texas, Austin, that found slightly lower levels of methane emissions from natural gas production sites than those projected by U.S. EPA, and Steyer told a home-state audience last year that fracking can be done “responsibly” and, although “not a long-term solution,” can help “kill coal” (E&E Daily, Oct. 11, 2013).

Bloomberg and Krupp’s op-ed hailed EPA for crafting a methane emissions reduction plan for natural gas, though the Obama administration does not plan to decide whether regulations under the Clean Air Act are called for until later this year. Tallying and mitigating methane releases is necessary but is “essentially a data acquisition and management problem — the kind that we know we can solve,” the duo wrote.

The Bloomberg-Krupp piece did not mention the stricter taxation that Steyer has pitched for oil and gas companies, particularly in his home state through a “Fair Shake” campaign run by his nonprofit group, NextGen Climate. Spokesmen for NextGen did not respond to a request for comment by press time on the Bloomberg-Krupp collaboration.