In recent months, the Republican attorneys general in West Virginia and Oklahoma have been relentlessly working to block the EPA's proposed carbon pollution standards for power plants, via an ongoing lawsuit, legislation, public relations activities, and Senate testimony. But the media coverage of these efforts has consistently left out a key aspect of the story: These attorneys general have formed what a New York Times investigation described as an “unprecedented, secretive alliance” with the fossil fuel industry against the Obama administration's environmental policies.
GOP Attorneys General Are Trying To Block The EPA's Carbon Pollution Standards
Led By WV And OK, 15 AGs Filed Suit Against The EPA To Try To Block The Clean Power Plan. In August 2014, a group of states sued the Environmental Protection Agency over the Clean Power Plan, which would place the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the single largest U.S. source of the emissions driving climate change. As NPR reported at the time, the lawsuit was first signaled by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and was led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. As of May 5, the Associated Press reported that a total of 15 attorneys general have now signed on to the lawsuit. [Office of the WV Attorney General, 9/3/14; Whitehouse.gov, accessed 5/7/15; NPR, 8/6/14; Associated Press, 5/5/15]
WV AG Wrote Letter Signed By OK AG And Others Demanding EPA Withdraw Standards For New Power Plants. On March 25, Morrisey announced that he had written a letter demanding that the EPA withdraw a related rule covering new power plants because the agency had allegedly missed a deadline for finalizing the rule. The letter was signed by Pruitt and attorneys general in 17 other states. [AG Letter to EPA, 3/25/15; Office of the WV Attorney General, 4/3/15]
OK AG Reportedly Pushed A Bill Requiring His Approval Of State Implementation Plan. The Oklahoma state legislature put forth a bill, reportedly requested by Pruitt, that would require the attorney general's office to review Oklahoma's compliance plan for achieving the specified carbon reductions before it gets submitted to the EPA. The bill was vetoed on May 1; in response, Pruitt said his office “will continue its aggressive challenge of the EPA's unlawful and overreaching Clean Power Plan to protect the interests of Oklahoma.” [The Oklahoman, 5/1/15]
WV And OK AGs Testified Against The Clean Power Plan In Senate Hearing. On May 5, Morrisey and Pruitt testified at a Senate hearing on the “legal implications of the Clean Power Plan,” and warned that the carbon pollution standards would have dire consequences for the economy. [U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, 5/5/15; Associated Press, 5/5/15]
The Missing Part Of The Story: AGs Have Formed An Anti-Environmental Alliance With The Fossil Fuel Industry
New York Times: Pruitt, Morrisey And Other GOP Attorneys General Have Formed “Unprecedented, Secretive Alliance” With Energy Industry. A December investigation by The New York Times revealed the “unprecedented, secretive alliance” between Republican attorneys general across the country and the fossil fuel industry to “push back against the Obama regulatory agenda.” The Times reported that attorneys general are filing lawsuits in support of corporate energy interests and receiving millions in campaign contributions from them, adding that “the collaboration is likely to grow”:
Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year.
They share a common philosophy about the reach of the federal government, but the companies also have billions of dollars at stake. And the collaboration is likely to grow: For the first time in modern American history, Republicans in January will control a majority -- 27 -- of attorneys general's offices.
[N]ever before have attorneys general joined on this scale with corporate interests to challenge Washington and file lawsuits in federal court. [The New York Times, 12/6/14]
Times Exposé Extensively Outlined Energy Industry Ties Of Pruitt And Morrisey. The Times investigation found that Pruitt's “ties with industry are clear,” particularly with Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm, and that "[e]nergy industry lobbyists drafted letters for [Pruitt] to send to the E.P.A., the Interior Department, the Office of Management and Budget and even President Obama." The article further noted that under Pruitt's leadership, the Republican Attorneys General Association launched a campaign “in which attorneys general band together to operate like a large national law firm ... to back lawsuits and other challenges against the Obama administration on environmental issues” and other topics. It added that “the benefits have been clear” for Pruitt, who has been supported by “notably solicitous” lobbyists and company officials who have helped him “raise his profile.” The Times piece also prominently featured Morrisey, pointing to his involvement with legislation that would help the state sue the Obama administration over the proposed power plant standards as an illustrative example of how "[p]ersuading lawmakers to offer legislation has been another effective lobbying tool." [The New York Times, 12/6/14]
Morrisey, Pruitt Also Received Significant Campaign Contributions From Energy Industry. In addition to the $16 million reported by The Times that energy companies and other corporate interests gave to the Republican Attorneys General Association, fossil fuel companies have also heavily contributed directly to Pruitt and Morrisey. Data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics shows that Pruitt has received $232,510 in career campaign contributions from the oil & gas industry -- the second-most he's received from any industry -- as well as $38,885 from electric utilities and $24,250 from mining interests. Morrisey has received $41,750 from the mining industry -- the second-most he's received from any industry -- as well as $8,000 from electric utilities and $4,000 from the oil and gas industry. In its investigation, The Times further reported that Oklahoma Gas & Electric “invited its employees to the Petroleum Club ... for a fund-raising event for Mr. Pruitt, drawing donations from about 45 employees, including the chief executive.” [National Institute on Money in State Politics, accessed 5/7/15; accessed 5/7/15; The New York Times, 12/6/14]
Koch-Backed Group Supported Pruitt's Anti-EPA Bill. The Oklahoman reported that Americans for Prosperity, which was co-founded by the oil billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and continues to be their main political arm, supported the bill that would have given Pruitt the power to approve Oklahoma's plan for complying with the EPA power plant regulations. The article also noted that Americans for Prosperity said “more than 1,000 members signed a petition supporting the bill and called the Legislature.” [The Oklahoman, 5/1/15; The New Yorker, 8/30/10; Politico, 5/9/14]
Media Ignored WV And OK AGs' Alliance With Fossil Fuel Interests
Neither Coordination With Energy Companies Nor Fossil Fuel Contributions Were Mentioned In Recent Articles About Anti-EPA Actions By Pruitt And Morrisey. Since Morrisey penned his letter to the EPA on March 25, the various anti-EPA activities by Pruitt and Morrisey received coverage in the Associated Press, The Oklahoman, Tulsa World, Charleston Gazette, Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, National Journal, The Journal Record, Huntington's Herald-Dispatch, Charleston Daily Mail, Washington Times, Mineral Daily News-Tribune, ClimateWire, and E&E News. But none of these outlets mentioned Pruitt or Morrisey's extensive energy industry ties.*
*Based on Nexis and Factiva searches of newspapers, wires, and magazines for (((“attorney general” or “attorneys general”) and (oklahoma or west virginia)) or (pruitt or morrisey)) and (epa or environmental protection agency or e.p.a.) from March 25 through May 7, 2015.