Last month, about 200 activists marched on the U.S. State Department in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer is adding to the pressure with a new series of ads, challenging the pipeline. / PAUL J. RICHARDS, AFP/Getty Images
WASHINGTON â?? In a television commercial set to air today, billionaire climate-change activist Tom Steyer is launching a fresh line of attack against the Keystone XL pipeline by questioning its economic benefits.
The 90-second ad, provided to USA TODAY in advance of its first airing, is the third in a series of four commercials Steyer has funded as part of his effort to kill the pipeline. The 1,700-mile pipeline, which would carry heavy crude oil from the tar sands in Canada to Texas refineries, awaits approval by President Obama and the U.S. State Department. TransCanada, the pipeline's builder, needs the administration's approval for a cross-border permit.
Obama has said his decision will turn on whether the pipeline increases greenhouse gas emissions.
In the latest commercial, Steyer stands before spinning wind turbines in California to tout the "hundreds of thousands of jobs" created the USA's clean-energy industry. By contrast, he says the pipeline would result in just 35 permanent jobs. (The figures come from a draft State Department review, which also found the pipeline would generate 42,100 direct and indirect jobs during a two-year construction phase.)
"As a businessman, I don't devalue any job," Steyer says in the commercial, "but 35 jobs maintaining a foreign oil pipeline, one that comes with real risks to the farms and towns and water supplies it would run through? That's not going to grow our economy."
The ad will air on political talk shows in Washington
He is spending $1 million on the advertising series, which will conclude with an ad discussing climate change and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy last October.
Steyer, a former hedge-fund chief with an estimated net worth of $1.4 billion, is part of a vocal band of environmental activists who have have made Keystone a test case of the administration's resolve to address climate change. On Sunday, he's joining other activists to dedicate a "renewable energy barn" in Nebraska along the proposed pipeline route.
Steyer also is a major Democratic donor who has worked to influence who sits in Congress. This year alone, a Steyer-funded super PAC spent $1.8 million backing fellow Keystone foe, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey, in the Democrat's special election. In 2010, Steyer helped defeat an oil-industry backed proposal that would have reversed a California law capping greenhouse-gas emissions.
At a time when the administration is working on policies to reduce carbon emissions, "it's not the time to make a 40-year commitment to harvesting some dirtiest oil in the world ... all for the benefit of a foreign oil company," said Chris Lehane, a former Clinton administration official who is an adviser to Steyer.
Business and union groups have urged the administration to approve TransCanada's request, which has been pending for five years.
"This is a project that's kind of a no-brainer," said Matt Letourneau, a spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "It's a type of oil that will be produced in Canada, regardless of whether it is" piped through the United States or not, he said.
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