States Announce a New Coalition to ‘Fight for Climate Change Progress’
Over a dozen of the nation’s top law enforcement officials have come together to curb greenhouse gas pollution, advance clean energy, and pursue joint investigations into whether the fossil fuel industry and its allies committed crimes by lying to investors and the public about climate change.
“In face of gridlock in Washington, we’re stepping into this breach,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, flanked by former Vice President Al Gore and a half dozen colleagues, as he announced the new coalition of state attorneys general at a press conference Tuesday.
“In my view, there’s nothing we need to worry about more than climate change,” added Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. “It’s incredibly serious when you think about the human and economic consequences.”
The coalition also includes attorneys general from California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, the Virgin Islands, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington.
The group will collaborate on legal efforts to “deal with climate change,” Schneiderman said, by finding “creative ways to enforce laws being flouted by fossil fuel companies and their allies for the sake of short-term profits,” as well as backing federal policies that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the use of renewable energy.
The coalition is forming in the wake of revelations last year by three news organizations—Inside Climate News and a joint project of the Los Angeles Times and the Energy and Environment Reporting Fellowship at Columbia Journalism School—that Exxon Mobil misled shareholders and the public about the realities and business risks of climate change while using the best available climate science internally to plan its operations.
Following these reports, Schneiderman’s office announced an investigation of Exxon Mobil in November. California Attorney General Kamala Harris followed suit in January.
Healey and U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker announced today that they are joining these investigations.
“It’s not that much an environmental issue as about survival,” said Walker. Under threat of destruction and danger from increasingly violent tropical storms and hurricanes caused by climate change, Virgin Islands residents are being forced to consider relocating away from the region, he said.
“The First Amendment, ladies and gentlemen, does not give you the right to commit fraud,” Schneiderman said. If corporations or utilities “are committing fraud in an effort to increase their short-term profits at the expense of the people we represent, we want to prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law.”
The coalition members are also among the 25 states, cities, and counties that filed a federal court brief on Tuesday in support of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.
Twenty-seven states and some power-industry groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency to overturn the rule, which would lower carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. A February Supreme Court ruling has stalled implementation of the plan until the suit plays out in the lower courts.
“There’s no mystery why the U.S. has been slow on acting on climate change. It is due to the overwhelming industrial opposition to taking action,” said David Hawkins, director of climate programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which joined with several other environmental organizations to file a brief in support of the Clean Power Plan.
Regarding the Exxon Mobil revelations, Hawkins said that “corporations have every right to oppose public policies that they disagree with. But they don’t have the right to do it with fraudulent statements and misleading information that causes investors to be misled. That’s a legitimate area of inquiry that these attorneys general—some of them—are already pursuing.”
Exxon Mobil has denied charges that it misled investors or the public. “We unequivocally reject the allegations that Exxon Mobil has suppressed climate change research,” Kenneth P. Cohen, the corporation’s vice president for public affairs, told The New York Times in November, adding that Exxon Mobil funded mainstream climate science for decades and has published dozens of research papers on global warming.
Gore, who joined the attorneys general gathered in Manhattan for a daylong conference on climate change, acknowledged that Exxon Mobil contributed for many years to mainstream scientific research into climate change but that its tactics eventually changed to attacking that work.
Gore called the attorneys general coalition “a real turning point in the effort to hold to account those commercial interests that have been, according to the best available evidence, deceiving the American people.”
This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction, March 30, 2016: An earlier version of this article omitted California from the list of attorneys general participating in the climate change coalition.