Green groups, billionaire threaten primaries against pro-Keystone Dems

Environmental activists outraged over the Keystone XL oil pipeline are threatening to get involved in primaries against Democrats who support the project.

The political arm of the high-profile environmental group recently endorsed Rep. Edward MarkeyEd MarkeyThis week: Pelosi's test Dem senators drop objection to FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: FCC chief lashes out at GOP | Obama takes on fake news | Bill would delay new hacking powers MORE (D-Mass.) over pipeline supporter Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) in the special election to succeed former Sen. John KerryJohn KerryIran’s nuclear deal just the tip of the iceberg for Trump Trump needs to stand firm on immigration, 'religious-test' insticts Budowsky: Ellison, Kerry to DNC? MORE (D-Mass.). It was the first primary endorsement ever by the group. 

Hedge fund billionaire and environmentalist Tom Steyer and young activists have also jumped in, going after Lynch over his Keystone backing. 

Both 350 Action and an aide to Steyer say involvement in other primaries could be in the offing and that Democrats considering supporting Keystone should learn from Massachusetts.

“We've got some time before 2014, but I'd advise their staff to take a close look at Massachusetts,” said 350 Action spokesman Jamie Henn, referring to pro-Keystone Democrats.

A spokesman for Steyer said he “is very mindful on the approach Mayor Bloomberg has taken on gun reform.” 

The New York City mayor is bankrolling a pro-gun-control ad campaign to pressure swing-state senators and, in a closely watched Illinois battle, recently supported the pro-gun-control winner of the Democratic House primary. He's looking at 2014 primary and general election races.

“As Tom believes that climate is an issue of our times, both in terms of the economic impact on our country and what it will mean to our children — with Keystone being the current front-lines of this policy fight — he intends to evaluate races where climate is very much on the ballot in terms of the candidates in a particular race,” said Steyer spokesman Chris Lehane.

Lehane said the Massachusetts race provides a model in terms of criteria, noting a “clear distinction on the issue” in an “important” race, and one that involves “being asked to come in by local people in the state or district.”

Stopping Keystone, which would bring oil from Canadian tar sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries, has become a major priority for many environmentalists.

But TransCanada Corp.’s proposed project, which remains under Obama administration review, has split Democrats.

The latest sign came Friday when 17 Senate Democrats, in a largely symbolic vote, supported a pro-pipeline amendment to the nonbinding fiscal 2014 budget plan.

By jumping into Democratic contests, environmentalists would be taking a page from conservative groups that often get involved in GOP primaries.

But it’s unclear whether the two green groups with the biggest political operations — the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) — will consider getting involved in primary campaigns against pro-Keystone Democrats.

A Sierra Club spokesman said “Our plans are still in the works for 2014,” while an LCV spokesman said “we’re not going to advertise our political strategy.”

In the nearer term, Henn said senators who voted in favor of Keystone during the budget battle can expect to hear from opponents of the pipeline.

“Our supporters in Delaware, Florida, Colorado and elsewhere will be bird-dogging their Senators or visiting their offices to make their disappointment known and encouraging them to change their position. These Senators have clearly underestimated how strongly their constituents feel about this issue,” he said.

Sens. Chris CoonsChris CoonsTrump gets chance to remake the courts A Cabinet position for Petraeus; disciplinary actions for Broadwell after affair Overnight Defense: Trump reportedly picking Mattis for Defense chief MORE (D-Del.), Tom CarperTom CarperOvernight Finance: Trump takes victory lap at Carrier plant | House passes 'too big to fail' revamp | Trump econ team takes shape Warren calls for probe of Trump hotel conflicts of interest Dem: Trump must ensure business deals don't violate Constitution MORE (D-Del.), Michael BennetMichael BennetSenate passes college anti-Semitism bill Speculation and starting points: accreditation, a new administration and a new Congress The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate MORE (D-Colo.) and Bill NelsonBill NelsonRed-state Dems face tough votes on Trump picks Feds allow GM to delay airbag recalls Florida governor won't serve in Trump administration MORE (D-Fla.) were among the Democrats that backed the pro-Keystone amendment, which was offered by Sens. John HoevenJohn HoevenFeds deny permit for Dakota Access pipeline Dem senator to meet with Trump Overnight Energy: Dakota pipeline standoff heats up MORE (R-N.D.) and Max BaucusMax BaucusThe mysterious sealed opioid report fuels speculation Lobbying World Even Steven: How would a 50-50 Senate operate? MORE (D-Mont.).

This story was first posted at 5:45 p.m. on March 25 and was updated at 10:29 a.m. on March 26.