State AGs’ Climate Cover-up
By The Editorial Board
Voters are spurning alarmist climate agendas at the ballot box, so U.S. progressives have turned to state attorneys general to litigate against fossil fuels. But the plan is backfiring as an ethically dubious program involving private-interest funding of state AG staff is being confronted in court.
Readers may recall a curious arrangement in which NYU Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center (SEEIC) finances the salaries and benefits of legal fellows in the New York Attorney General’s office as “special assistant attorneys general.” The program began in 2017 and is bankrolled by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Funding is only available to state AGs committed to “advancing progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions,” according to the group’s August 2017 email to numerous AGs obtained by Chris Horner, a former fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. In other words, an outside group is funding legal services for AGs who pursue the group’s political priorities.
The SEEIC says the fellows’ work is directed by AGs and not the SEEIC, but questions about the group’s influence on law enforcement are being raised in court. One of the New York AG fellows, Matthew Eisenson, signed the state’s October suit against Exxon Mobil , which alleged the company misled investors about the risks of climate-change regulations to its business.
Exxon has produced millions of pages of documents since former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman began investigating the company in 2015 and now wants more information regarding the office’s communications with outside groups. Yet AG Letitia James is dodging transparency regarding her office’s SEEIC relationship.
Exxon alleges that the office’s “acceptance of fellows” from SEEIC “generates a conflict of interest,” and that New York’s “investigation of, and enforcement action against, ExxonMobil are driven by improper motives,” according to a brief Exxon filed last month. The AG is challenging Exxon’s discovery requests, and a hearing is scheduled for June 12.
Documents may reveal a trail of influence peddling. Quarterly reports from the New York AG to the SEEIC explain the fellows’ contributions to environmental initiatives. But the AG’s office has not divulged those reports in records requested by Mr. Horner. Biweekly reports between the SEEIC and its advisory council may also be illuminating. In an email that Mr. Horner obtained in a separate records request, the SEEIC described the biweekly reports as “on a close hold basis.” Why the secrecy if this is nothing shady?
As of 2018 at least seven states and the District of Columbia had adopted this money-for-policy scheme. The nonprofit law firm Government Accountability and Oversight this week sued Massachusetts AG Maura Healey to compel the release of documents related to her two fellows. Virginia in March sidestepped these court battles by requiring that, with a few exceptions, the state AG employ state or federal employees compensated solely with public funds. Count that as a win for transparency and accountability that others should emulate.