Republican State AGs Met With Coal, Electricity Companies Before Filing Against The EPA’s Carbon Rule

Private meetings with the attorneys general cost up to $125,000.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has played a key role in the lawsuit against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JOHN RABY
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has played a key role in the lawsuit against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JOHN RABY

Coal and electricity companies paid to meet with Republican state attorneys general just weeks before those top law enforcement officials joined in suing the federal government over the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, new documents show.

Coal company Murray Energy and electricity giant Southern Company, which owns several southeastern utilities and a number of natural gas companies, held private meetings with attorneys general at the Republican Attorneys General Association’s annual summit in West Virginia in August 2015. The meetings cost up to $125,000 per company, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, which uncovered the documents.

Of the 21 attorneys general who attended the summit, only one — Idaho’s Lawrence Wasden — did not join an anti-Clean Power Plan lawsuit that was launched that same month and is expected to be heard at a U.S. District Court later this month.

“State attorneys general are supposed to enforce the law and serve the public interest, but instead these Republican officials have hung a ‘For Sale’ sign on their door, and the fossil fuel industry proved to be the highest bidder,” Nick Surgey, research director for the watchdog group, said in a statement.

The Clean Power Plan is a regulation under the Clean Air Act that requires states to find a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. Electricity generation is a leading source of pollution, and curbing emissions from the sector is critical for future climate and environmental stability — helping to meet the United States’ obligations under the Paris climate agreement and to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. In addition, the Clean Power Plan is expected to improve local air quality and improve health across the nation.

Fighting it has been a priority for fossil fuel companies, particularly coal companies, who view the transition to a clean energy economy as more of a threat to their business than a win for the environment.

According to the documents, released this week, the 2015 meeting also featured a panel presentation titled “The Dangerous Consequences of the Clean Power Plan & Other EPA Rules.” Speakers included Mike Duncan, President of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, Geoffrey Barnes, a lawyer for Murray Energy, and Republican attorneys general Scott Pruitt (OK), Patrick Morrisey (WV), and Ken Paxton (TX).

“Together, these documents reveal a sustained pattern of collusion between the fossil fuel industry and the Republican attorneys general on climate change obstructionism,” Surgey said.

State attorneys general in the group also discussed “the future of the fight to stop the Clean Power Plan” at a meeting of RAGA’s political arm, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, in April.

The documents disclosed this week are perhaps the straightest line between fossil fuel groups opposing federal regulation and attorneys general who have chosen to side with industry. (Murray Energy, a coal company that sent executives to the August session, is also party to the state lawsuit.)

But there are many ways for industry groups to funnel money to candidates.

Thus far in the 2015–2016 cycle, RAGA has disclosed about $19 million in contributions received. About 13 percent of that is from fossil fuel interests, including Koch Industries, Murray Energy, the American Petroleum Institute, Exxon Mobil, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Another 7 percent came from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which, in turn, receives a significant amount of its funds from fossil fuel companies and Koch-backed nonprofits.

Analysis by ThinkProgress this summer found that the group has already spent more than $4 million in state AG races, focusing on four vacant seats in Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, as well as on “safe” Republican seats in West Virginia and Utah.

Pennsylvania is the only one of those states that is not already party to the Clean Power Plan lawsuit.

Pennsylvania’s Republican attorney general candidate, State Sen. John Raffery, has said that said his Democratic opponent “hopes to help Hillary Clinton cripple the energy industry and leave thousands jobless,” but it does not appear that he has directly addressed the Clean Power Plan. He voted for a bill last session that would have given the legislature more oversight of the state’s efforts to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

The Rafferty campaign did not immediately respond Wednesday on whether he would join the Clean Power Plan lawsuit if elected.

RAGA did not immediately respond Wednesday to ThinkProgress’s request for comment on the documents revealed by the Center for Media and Democracy.