Billionaire vs. billionaires? Tom Steyer challenges the Koch brothers to a climate debate

This could get ugly...

By Lindsay Abrams
Published April 28, 2014 8:50PM (EDT)
David Koch                                      (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)
David Koch (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)

On one side, we have the Koch brothers: Billionaires, conservative champions and enemies of green energy, who are "fighting to restore a free society."  On the other, we have Tom Steyer: Billionaire, former hedge fund manager turned full-time liberal activist and founder of political action committee NextGen Climate, who pledged $100 million to fighting climate-denying candidates in the midterm elections. Get them together in a room, and the ensuing fight could -- for sheer entertainment value alone -- put the debate between Bill Nye and creationist Ken Ham to shame.

During an interview with HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" Friday, Steyer challenged the Kochs to a public debate on energy policy, the Keystone XL pipeline, subsidies for the oil industry and climate change. He's also circulating a petition that calls on them to accept. "Charles Koch has publicly bemoaned the oppression of 'free and open debate,'" Steyer said, "and this might be the one point on which we agree. Democracy isn’t served by underhanded attacks and the voice of the American people shouldn’t be drowned out by anonymous voices with expensive megaphones. Which is why today I am issuing a formal invitation to Charles and David Koch to come out of the shadows and join me in exactly what they’ve requested: a free and open debate."

Is this a case of the climate debate getting hijacked by the tippy-top of the 1 percent? Well, yes, in the most literal sense. But speaking with Politico last week, Steyer denied being the left's version of the Koch brothers, arguing that while Charles and David Koch’s priorities “line up perfectly with their pocketbooks," NextGen's advocacy is all about making the world a better place for future generations. (The conservative media, for the record, couldn't disagree more.)

Steyer further sought to distinguish the two sides even as he announced the challenge: “Make no mistake: There is a significant difference between what NextGen Climate is doing and what the other side -- led by special interests like the Koch brothers -- is doing," he said. "We are using our resources to promote an interest that we believe will help our children, while they appear to be promoting an agenda that will benefit their economic self-interest."

The Koch brothers have yet to respond.

Lindsay Abrams

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Climate Change Debates Keystone Xl Pipeline Koch Brothers Tom Steyer