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As showdown looms, Tom Steyer airs TV ad ripping oil industry in California

Democrat Tom Steyer says Donald Trump 'living an unreal fantasy'

Tom Steyer, billionaire environmentalist and potential candidate for governor in 2018, spoke to the California delegation at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 in Philadelphia.
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Tom Steyer, billionaire environmentalist and potential candidate for governor in 2018, spoke to the California delegation at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 in Philadelphia.

With an end-of-session brawl looming in the Legislature over California climate programs, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer on Monday will start airing a television ad accusing the state’s oil industry of putting profits over the health of children.

The ad, released on the day lawmakers return from their summer recess, comes amid wavering support for extending the state’s cap-and-trade program, in which polluters pay to offset carbon emissions.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who is trying to reach an agreement with lawmakers by the end of August to extend the program beyond 2020, said last week that he will “get it one way or the other” while acknowledging he is “still working” on a plan to extend the landmark program.

In a 30-second ad, whose initial buy was put at $1.2 million by Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action, the former hedge fund manager credits California’s clean air laws for reducing pollution, reducing asthma in children and creating jobs in a burgeoning clean-energy sector.

“Just when we’re making progress, the oil companies are trying to weaken our clean-air laws,” Steyer says in the ad. “But we can stop them. Send them a message: We’re going to protect our kids, not their profits.”

Steyer said in a prepared statement that NextGen is “acting as a counterweight” to the oil industry. The dispute over cap-and-trade comes a year after oil interests lobbied heavily against Brown’s failed legislative effort to reduce petroleum use in motor vehicles.

Oil companies have criticized both cap-and-trade and the state’s low-carbon fuel standard, which requires producers of gasoline and other transportation fuels to reduce the carbon intensity of their products. The Western States Petroleum Association has argued that the standard is unrealistic, while some lawmakers have questioned environmental benefits of the state’s climate programs. Among other things, the Brown administration has relied on cap-and-trade revenue for its plan to build a high-speed rail system in the state.

Steyer has not yet said if he will run for governor in 2018, but the ad features him prominently, affording him increased visibility.

Steyer has spent millions of dollars nationally supporting candidates and causes involving climate change. Most recently, he spent $1.7 million on ads attacking Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and urging people to register to vote during the Republican National Convention.

In California, Steyer has spent at least $3.9 million on a variety of causes since 2013. In addition, as oil companies last summer blocked legislation aimed to halve fuel consumption in California, NextGen reported spending more than $1 million in lobbying and other payments to influence the outcome.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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