Tom Steyer, the billionaire Democratic activist, declared his candidacy for the 2020 election late, pushing himself as an outsider who isn’t beholden to corporate interests.
Steyer, who put his support behind Question 6, a Nevada ballot question in 2018 to increase the renewable energy standard, spoke with the Sun last week about his positions on Yucca Mountain, climate change and marijuana.
What is your position on Yucca Mountain?
I don’t know if I can give you a detailed answer to that, but I think that the question has been ‘what are we going to do, in general, with nuclear waste?’ Before building (nuclear waste sites), understanding how we’re going to dispose of the waste in a way that will not threaten the safety of American citizens — obviously, that’s the issue in Yucca.
We built a series of nuclear facilities without a plan for how to dispose of the toxic waste, and then we wanted to do it at the expense of the people in Nevada. The good news is we never have to do this again because renewables are cheaper than nuclear by a lot.
Nevada has legalized recreational marijuana, but cannabis businesses cannot generally use banks. What is your opinion on legalized marijuana, and how would you solve the banking issue?
I’m for legalizing marijuana. I’m from California, we also have legalized marijuana. As long as there is federal deposit insurance and it is illegal according to federal law to sell either medical or recreational marijuana, it’s impossible for a bank to finance marijuana businesses and get federal deposit insurance.
I know that because my wife and I started a community bank that is dedicated to the idea of economic justice, environmental sustainability (and) women- and minority-owned businesses. We know that for us to actually finance marijuana businesses would mean that we would lose the support of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. So, the real question is, don’t we have to change the federal laws so that the FDIC can allow community banks and other banks to support these legal industries in the states where they exist?
Nevada is hot, and, according to scientists, it will get hotter without a course correction. How would you tackle climate change?
I put out a climate plan last week, and the three things that distinguish it from all the other climate plans are these. One, I would declare a state of emergency on Day One of my presidency. I would give Congress 100 days to pass some form of the Green New Deal and if they wouldn’t I would use the emergency powers of the president to start making the changes we need to make.
Two, I would do it on the basis of environmental justice. I have led a series of direct democracy propositions including (in) Nevada last year — Question 6. That was actually something I started and put together the coalition on. We’ve done them in California, we’ve done them in Arizona, we’ve done them in Michigan. The point is to say we believe in all of these — you start at the community level, particularly with the communities where the pollution has been focused and centered, which tends to be low-income communities and communities of color.
We start with those communities to make sure the policies that are proposed work for them and the people there and clean up the immediate health issues related to dirty air and dirty water.
Three, if you’re not talking about re-creating an international coalition to deal with climate, you’re not talking effectively about something that has to happen. Just as an example, there are 237 coal plants in the United States of America. There are more 10 times that many coal plants around the world and there are plans to build another approximately thousand coal plants.
If we got rid of every one of our 237 coal plants, that would be dwarfed by what happens abroad. So, we have to commit on Day One to a rigorous, emergency plan for the United States and use that as proof to the rest of the world that we’re a moral, technological and industrial leader for this and put together a coalition to solve this problem globally.
If you’re not dealing with those three issues — emergency, environmental justice and the global nature of the problem, you’re not dealing with it in a realistic (sense). All you’re doing is checking a policy box, you’re not dealing with the real world. If you look at Nevada, we got 50% percent clean energy by 2030 in Nevada at the ballot last year. We did it on the basis of cleaning up the air here, particularly in Las Vegas, creating tens of thousands of net good-paying jobs.
As a businessperson I can tell you, we can have cheaper energy — renewable is cheaper than any fossil fuel — we can create millions of jobs, we can clean up the air and water, we can raise wages and, oh, by the way, we can solve a crisis that threatens the health and safety of every American.
You’ve been active on the grassroots level, but this is your first campaign as a candidate. How do you respond to concerns about your political experience?
The No. 1 problem that we have in front of us is the hostile corporate takeover of our democracy. What we need to do is restore power to the people. For 10 years, I’ve been organizing coalitions of ordinary American citizens to take on unchecked corporate power.
For 10 years as an outsider, I’ve been taking on unchecked corporate power and winning. If we believe that the No. 1 problem in getting any of these policy proposals done is to break the corporate stranglehold on our government, do you believe that’s going to come from an outsider who has been working at the grassroots (level) or from an insider?
If you look at the four people who have been polling the best this year on the Democratic side, all of them are senators or former senators, and between them they have over 70 years in Congress. Do you really think they’re the people who are going to solve this problem, or do you think it’s going to come from the grassroots?
How are you different from the other candidates?
The other thing that I think is true with this, if you listened to that debate, I hear people talking about all the crises, and all the problems and all the failures of America. If we take back the government from these corporations and stabilize the climate, we’re in the best position of any people in the history of this planet.
We can have, as a right for every American citizen, health care, free public education from pre-K though college with life-long skills training, we can have a living wage for every American working person and we can have guaranteed clean air and clean water. People keep acting like we’re a failed society. America is looking for a positive vision of how to go forward together, that’s what we’re looking for. The fact that everyone thinks this government has been taken over by corporations is what let Mr. Trump get elected in the first place. He’s absolutely toxic. What we need is a positive vision together to realize what we can create together and what it means to be American again. That’s what I want to talk about.