Introducing St. Thomas? Hardly!

Tom Steyer has become the Democrats’ favorite billionaire and the number one funder of liberal political candidates. So media outlets naturally have felt obliged to begin introducing him to the public. Steyer now styles himself an environmental crusader whose top priority is fighting global warming. However, in part because of this post, many people are now aware that Steyer made much of his hedge fund fortune by financing coal mines and coal-fired power plants in Asia and Australia. This creates a problem for Democratic Party news outlets that want to lionize him.

The Washington Post tries to solve the problem by detailing Steyer’s “slow unwinding of his fossil-fuel investments.” It turns out that while Steyer has posed as an environmental activist at least since 2010, he himself continued to profit from the very fossil fuel projects that he condemns, including a major Canadian tar sands development, until just six months ago.

Still, the Post quotes an environmentalist to the effect that “Steyer deserves praise for his willingness to give up a lucrative career” as a hedge fund manager. Yes–after earning well over a billion dollars, a substantial portion of which came from coal investments. The first billion is always the hardest, right?

But the real problem with the Post’s account is not that it puts a happy face on Steyer’s past fossil fuel investments. In my opinion, developing coal projects that provide cheap energy to millions of people in countries like Indonesia, and thereby help to lift them out of poverty, is likely the best thing Steyer has ever done. No, the real problem with the Post’s account is that it ignores the connection between Steyer’s political activities and his current business interests. In fact, the Post never mentions Steyer’s current business activities at all.

This is an unpardonable oversight, since Steyer is now one of the country’s major investors in “green” energy projects, i.e., solar and wind. Steyer has many millions of dollars at stake in such investments, which are viable only if governments, federal and state, subsidize solar and wind power and require their use by utilities. Without a “green” government, the value of Steyer’s “green” investments would plummet, perhaps to nothing. Thus, Steyer is feathering his own nest whenever he talks about global warming, and whenever he donates millions to support candidates who favor carbon taxes, stricter emissions limits on coal plants, subsidies for “green” energy projects, and so on.

Steyer is a rent seeker. He wants governments to make him and his cronies even richer by subsidizing the companies he invests in, and by forcing consumers to pay for inefficient energy that could never survive in a free market. Thus, Steyer’s self-interested dealings with government are anything but admirable. It is one thing to succeed by competing in an open market; something quite different to succeed because government has its thumb on the scale. Tom Steyer is no hero.