Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General

Eric Lipton, Courting Favor: A Hidden Coalition: Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General. The New York Times, 6 December 2014. “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…. The Times reported previously how individual attorneys general have shut down investigations, changed policies or agreed to more corporate-friendly settlement terms after intervention by lobbyists and lawyers, many of whom are also campaign benefactors. But the attorneys general are also working collectively. Democrats for more than a decade have teamed up with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club to use the court system to impose stricter regulation. But never before have attorneys general joined on this scale with corporate interests to challenge Washington and file lawsuits in federal court. Out of public view, corporate representatives and attorneys general are coordinating legal strategy and other efforts to fight federal regulations, according to a review of thousands of emails and court documents and dozens of interviews.”

Courting Favor: Articles in this series examine the explosion in lobbying of state attorneys general by corporate interests and the millions in campaign donations they now provide.” Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.

The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.

But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying….

The email exchange from October 2011, obtained through an open-records request, offers a hint of the unprecedented, secretive alliance that Mr. Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general have formed with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda, an investigation by The New York Times has found….

[The Rule of Law] campaign, in which attorneys general band together to operate like a large national law firm, has been used to back lawsuits and other challenges against the Obama administration on environmental issues, the Affordable Care Act and securities regulation. The most recent target is the president’s executive action on immigration….

Energy industry lobbyists have also distributed draft legislation to attorneys general and asked them to help push it through state legislatures to give the attorneys general clearer authority to challenge the Obama regulatory agenda, the documents show….

[I]t is an emerging practice that several former attorneys general say threatens the integrity of the office.

“It is a magnificent and noble institution, the office of attorney general, as it is truly the lawyer for the people,” said Terry Goddard, a Democrat who served two terms as Arizona’s attorney general and who, like Mr. Frohnmayer, reviewed copies of the documents collected by The Times. “That independence is clearly at risk here. What is happening diminishes the reputation of individual attorneys general and the community as a group.”…

Aided by record fund-raising by the Republican Attorneys General Association, Republicans, for the first time in modern history, will control a majority of state attorney general posts in 2015….

Coordination between the corporations and teams of attorneys general involved in the Rule of Law effort also involves actual litigation to try to clear roadblocks to energy projects, documents show.

Energy producers, for instance, wanted to sue the Interior Department as it considered adding animals such as the sage grouse — which nests near sites of oil and gas drilling — to a list of endangered species, a move that could put tens of thousands of acres off limits to new drilling.

The energy companies could have sued on their own, but their executives believed that the case would be more potent by bringing in Mr. Pruitt and the weight of the State of Oklahoma….

For the [energy] industry, the state is an extremely valued partner because states are granted “special solicitude” from the federal courts, a critical advantage to private companies that helps confer legal standing and means that a matter is less likely to be dismissed.

Mr. Pruitt’s office, in a statement to The Times, rejected any suggestion that the attorney general has been wrong to send to Washington comment letters written by industry lobbyists, or to take up their side in litigation….

Persuading lawmakers to offer legislation has been another effective lobbying tool. In West Virginia, Mr. Miller handed Attorney General Patrick Morrisey a draft of legislation that he argued would put West Virginia in a better position to sue the Obama administration over proposed regulations to tighten pollution controls on power plants, emails show….

While Mr. Pruitt’s efforts to raise money for the Republican Attorneys General Association have been an unqualified success, the lawsuits and regulatory appeals he has filed have yielded mixed results.

In May, the Supreme Court declined to take up the appeal on the Oklahoma Gas & Electric matter, meaning the company is now moving ahead on retrofitting its coal-burning plants. But other lawsuits are pending, including Mr. Pruitt’s challenge of the Dodd-Frank law, which rewrote the nation’s financial regulations, and, perhaps most important, his challenge of the tax subsidies that are a critical part of the Obama administration’s health care law….

[President Obama] sees himself as above the law,” Mr. Pruitt said from Oklahoma City as he announced several days later yet another front in the campaign, a lawsuit he planned to file to challenge the Obama administration’s new immigration policies. “We will take action to hold him accountable.”