Environmental mega-donor Tom Steyer spent more than $70 million in 2014 trying to defeat GOP climate skeptics, mostly in a losing effort. Now Steyer is promising to spend big to make Republicans pay a political price for denying the reality of man-made climate change in 2016—and vows the result will be different.
Steyer's super PAC, NextGen Climate, announced plans on Monday to call on Republican 2016 hopefuls to answer for their stance on climate change and link Republicans who question the existence and causes of climate change to Charles and David Koch, a pair of influential conservative donors with deep ties to the fossil-fuel industry.
NextGen chief strategist Chris Lehane declined to put a price tag on the 2016 effort Monday, telling reporters only that the organization will spend "whatever it takes."
The announcement marks an early jump into the 2016 race for Steyer. It also indicates the mega-donor's determination to attack Republicans who fail to prioritize climate, despite the fact that many of the candidates Steyer backed during the 2014 election cycle failed to win key Senate races.
"2016 is a crossroads election when it comes to climate," Lehane said, warning that without public policy to rein in greenhouse-gas emissions, "the climate change apocalypse will be unleashed."
According to Lehane, NextGen will work to elevate climate to the status of a top-tier electoral issue and make climate change a wedge issue on the road to the White House in 2016. The climate push known as "the Hot Seat" will operate out of San Francisco, with satellite offices in D.C. and across the country.
NextGen will engage in "disruptive" tactics, Lehane said, citing plans for the organization to bring a lie-detector machine to Senator Rand Paul's expected announcement on Tuesday that he will enter the presidential race. Lehane said that NextGen will challenge Paul to submit to the lie-detector test in response to the question of whether he believes the scientific consensus on climate change.
Steyer emerged as a high-profile environmental and Democratic donor during the 2014 midterm elections. But his political spending has translated into mixed results.
Candidates backed by NextGen won only three out of seven targeted Senate and gubernatorial races that cycle.
2016 could offer a chance for Steyer's super PAC to redeem itself, but climate change ranks notoriously low on the list of voter priorities.
Most Republican White House hopefuls admit that the climate is changing, but few acknowledge the role that human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels has played in the warming of Earth's temperature. Fewer still say that the U.S. should do anything to stem the tide of rising greenhouse-gas emissions.
Sens. Marco Rubio and Paul said last month that Congress should not act to cut carbon pollution. Sen. Ted Cruz, an official 2016 contender, said last month that there has been no significant warming on Earth over the past 17 years.
Those viewpoints are sharply at odds with the scientific consensus on climate change, which states that global warming is real and driven by human activity.
This story is breaking and will be updated.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.