Guest opinion: Unions declare war on anti-energy extremism |

Guest opinion: Unions declare war on anti-energy extremism

Simon Lomax

Simon Lomax

The conflict between the blue-collar wing and environmental wing of the Democratic Party just got worse. Much worse. It’s all because of California hedge-fund billionaire and climate activist Tom Steyer, the same man who is spending millions of dollars to sway elections in Colorado this year.

Earlier this month, Steyer announced a new $50 million political partnership with the AFL-CIO and a number of public-sector unions, including the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. Unions representing roughly 1.5 million workers are now in open rebellion against the leadership of the AFL-CIO over the deal.

“[I]t saddens us that the very labor movement we fought for and supported for over a century seems to have lost sight of its core mission and has moved away from us and our membership in the interest of headline grabbing political expediency,” the group of unions told the AFL-CIO in a May 16 letter obtained by the New York Times.

Steyer’s all-out opposition to fossil fuels and his support for fringe environmental activist groups directly conflicts with the interests of many workers who pay dues to the AFL-CIO, a federation of more than 50 unions, the letter said. The anti-Steyer unions have demanded an immediate end to the AFL-CIO’s partnership with Steyer because “we do not want any of our members’ financial support for the federation to be used against them and their economic well-being.”

In a separate letter obtained by the Times, the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) denounced the AFL-CIO for selling its political agenda “to a job-killing hedge fund manager with a bag of cash.”

The strongest denunciation of Steyer and the “keep it in the ground” activists who are determined to ban fossil fuel production and any project tied to fossil fuels came midway through the letter from LIUNA president Terry O’Sullivan to the AFL-CIO.

“Tom Steyer and his allies oppose an all-of-the-above energy policy that not only creates good union jobs, but offers to keep the lights on and meet our nation’s energy needs even as we transition to a cleaner, more sustainable future,” O’Sullivan wrote. “His vision of leaving oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels in the ground kills jobs, drives up energy costs and threatens to strangle our economy.”

“As a hedge-fund billionaire, he may not feel the pain of such self-righteous, patronizing and damaging policies, but our members, and all American families, do. ‘Leave it in the ground’ is not a viable energy policy.”

The divide between blue-collar Democrats and environmental activist groups has recently grown and the conflict has escalated, starting with President Obama’s climate agreement in Paris, the stridently anti-energy platform of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s anti-fossil fuel rhetoric on the campaign trail and the efforts of leading Colorado Democrats to minimize the role that Steyer and fringe environmental groups play in state party politics.

The reason for the division and conflict is simple: Only the rich can afford the energy policies advanced by the environmental left, which makes them disastrous for working families.

But this savage new criticism from several major unions takes things to a whole new level. They have directly called out the environmental left for attacking working families, union and non-union. More than that, Sullivan — one of the nation’s top labor leaders — just told the voters that Steyer and the rest of the environmental left simply cannot be trusted.

This matters a great deal in Colorado. Steyer is a high-profile political figure here, and environmental activists have spent years raising their statewide profile. At the same time, Colorado Democrats say they are “committed to the needs and interests of working class families and our local businesses.” But if they collaborate with Steyer and the activists, how can this be true?

This isn’t just a question from Republicans and conservative groups. It’s coming from inside the Democratic coalition and from one of party’s oldest constituencies — organized labor.

Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver. Contact him at

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