John Podesta Floated Billionaire Environmentalist Tom Steyer For Energy Secretary

The megadonor could get another shot at the job under a Clinton presidency.

WASHINGTON ― John Podesta, former top adviser to President Barack Obama, wanted billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer to be the president’s first energy secretary, according to hacked emails published by WikiLeaks

Podesta, who is now the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, recommended Steyer for the job in a 2008 email to the late Obama adviser Cassandra Butts. (Butts died earlier this year.) At the time, Steyer was a hedge fund manager running Farallon Capital. Steyer has since pushed his way into the political scene as a megadonor, funneling millions into congressional races in an attempt to make climate change a wedge issue

Podesta also added Tim Wirth, a former Democratic senator from Colorado, and then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) to the list of potential nominees. None of them made the cut, of course; Obama picked physicist Steven Chu. 

Steyer’s name came up again in 2013 when Obama began looking for a replacement for Chu. Steyer appeared open to the idea at that time. 

“There are things we can do ... that will make us all much better off and will make the world much better off. I’m incredibly excited to work on those problems, but I’d be awfully surprised if I were the next energy secretary,” Steyer told Bloomberg TV.

The email was included in a batch that WikiLeaks released on Friday. While the White House hasn’t confirmed the authenticity of every email, they have blamed Russian hackers for the leak. Wikileaks released a second batch of Podesta’s emails Monday.

Podesta is expected to stick with Clinton if she is elected, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he throws Steyer’s name in the mix for a cabinet spot again. Steyer endorsed Clinton in June, and has held fundraisers for the Democratic presidential nominee.  Steyer spent $74 million during the 2014 cycle and this year his climate organization NextGen has spent at least $25 million on a get-out-the-vote campaign targeting young voters. 

“In 2016, Tom is focused on the most urgent issues facing American voters today, including economic opportunity, climate change, and ensuring that young people and people of color have their voices heard in this election,” a spokesperson for Steyer said when asked if he’d be interested in working for the Clinton administration. “He is working with organizations across the nation ― and especially in California ― to promote voter registration and engagement on an unprecedented scale. He is also laser-focused on electing climate champions to the White House and the Senate on November 8.”

The emails show Podesta weighed in on a number of cabinet posts. He also pitched Katie McGinty, who headed the White House Council on Environmental Quality under former President Bill Clinton and is now a Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Yale University law professor Dan Esty was also on Podesta’s list for EPA chief.

The messages also give some insight into the Obama administration’s thought process as it made appointments for that first term. A list of potential nominees sent to Podesta included candidates ranging from former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, for energy secretary, to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the EPA. 

Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, seemed “impossible” to Podesta for the energy spot. Obama’s advisers also floated the vocal, attention-hungry Brian Schweitzer, then the Democratic governor of Montana. The list drew obvious skepticism from Podesta.

“These seem wildly different in potential although all could play a [role],” he wrote.  

This article has been updated with comments from Steyer’s spokesperson.