Tom Steyer: California Can ‘Move Forward Environmentally’ Despite Pandemic, Heatwave, Wildfire Crises

Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

by Julia Pyper, Host/Producer of the Political Climate podcast

The Golden State is in a dark place. Power outages recently took place amid a historic heatwave, followed by a spate of devastating wildfires. These crises come on top of persistently high COVID-19 case numbers and a budget crunch.  

But despite these challenges, California has the ability to build back in an economically and environmentally sustainable way, Tom Steyer, former Democratic presidential candidate, climate activist and co-chair of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s economic recovery task force, tells the Political Climate podcast (listen to the full interview here).

Why This Matters: California has to cut several environmental programs in order to close a $54 billion budget shortfall created by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep societal injustices, while natural disasters are creating more complexity and spending issues.

Shortly after ending his presidential bid, Steyer was selected to co-chair Gov. Newsom’s star-studded economic recovery task force, which includes Former Chair of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen, Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger, and Apple CEO Tim Cook. While task force recommendations must ultimately be taken up by Newsom and state legislators, Steyer says they’ve identified ways to make progress on California’s ambitious climate goals while rebuilding the state’s economy. 

“The budget is under immense strain because of a very sharp economic slow-down. But that doesn’t mean we can’t move forward environmentally,” Steyer tells Political Climate. “First of all, we can try to get rid of the multiple jurisdictions and regulations preventing the faster building of solar and wind around the state.”


An Exciting Climate Plan: Another hat Steyer wears today, is serving on Joe Biden’s “Climate Engagement Advisory Council,” which is focused on mobilizing climate and environmental voters for the Democratic nominee in the November election.

Not long ago, Steyer was on the debate stage sparring with Biden and other Democratic presidential hopefuls. The billionaire climate activist centered his campaign on combating climate change and has worked to make the Democratic Party more progressive through his organization NextGen America. Steyer says he now believes that Biden’s expanded climate platform meets the moment. 

“The Build Back Better plan that the Biden/Harris team has put together, honestly, is fantastic. I think that it is just about perfect for this time. It’s got $2 trillion of infrastructure spending in the first four years. It is an environmental justice plan, as well as a climate plan. It deals specifically with the needs of black and brown communities where we’ve had concentrated air and water pollution, and he’s worked with people from those communities to make sure it’s right […] And it is also a gigantic jobs program.”

To Go Deeper: Learn more about how Tom Steyer is working with Gov. Gavin Newsom and Joe Biden in this episode of Political Climateepisode two in the Relief, Rescue, Rebuild series supported by Third Way Energy.


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