Peabody Coal Lawyer Laurence Tribe, Obama's Law Professor, Testifies in Congress vs. EPA Carbon Rule

Laurence Tribe, constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School and of-counsel at the firm Massey & Gail LLP, recently testified in front of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce against the proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule

Currently working as legal counsel for coal industry giant Peabody Energy and helping the company write comments, Tribe submitted a 57-page legal memo to accompany his five-minute testimony (starting at 22:43). In December 2014, Tribe submitted 35 pages worth of comments to the EPA on its proposed rule.

Joining Tribe were both New York University School of Law professor Richard Revesz and Hunton & Williams attorney Allison Wood, who testified for and against the Clean Power Plan, respectively. But Tribe served as the star witness and fielded most of the questions from the Committee during the question-and-answer session.

Fittingly given his distinguished legal background, Tribe argued against the Clean Power Plan on constiutional law grounds. 

“Burning the Constiution should not become part of our national energy policy,” Tribe wrote in the early pages of the legal memo he submitted to the Committee. “At its core, the issue the Clean Power Plan presents is whether EPA is bound by the rule of law and must operate within the framework established by the United States Constitution.”

He also proposed a solution — favored by his client Peabody  in a section titled, “There is a Better Way.”

“The United States could…support carbon capture and storage technologies,” Tribe wrote, not mentioning Peabody's advocacy for so-called “clean coal.” 

“An 'all of the above' energy policy can support all forms of domestic energy production that will minimize carbon emissions, protect consumers and American jobs, and ensure that the U.S. remains independent from unreliable foreign sources of energy.”

The Rebuttal

Advocates for the Obama carbon rule, such as the Sierra Club, rebutted Tribe.

Harvard University may pay Laurence Tribe to teach law school classes, but when it comes to Tribe’s positions on the Clean Power Plan, it’s the coal industry signing the checks,” David DiMartino, advisor to the Climate Action Campaign — which advocates for the Clean Power Plan — and employee of Blue Engine Media, said in an email statement provided to DeSmog.  

“Make no mistake: the polluter industry’s attempt to buy a high-profile law professor, just as they’ve contributed hundreds of millions to buy their agenda in Congress, won’t fool the overwhelming majority of Americans who want Congress to take action on climate change.”

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), credited by The New York Times as a key behind-the-scenes author of the Clean Power Plan, has also taken umbrage with Tribe's legal posturing.

Peabody/Tribe claim that the Clean Power Plan won’t make any difference to climate change. That’s false,” David Donigerdirector of NRDC's climate and clean air program, told DeSmogBlog via email. “Everyone knows that curbing climate change requires action by all of the world’s major contributors, including the U.S. The question is how can the U.S. best exert leverage to make this happen.”

In December, Doniger wrote a blog post critiquing Tribe's legal argument contained in the comments he submitted to the EPA.

Tribe, Wood Industry Ties

Tribe currently represents or has recently represented many corporate clients, including fossil fuel industry interests, throughout his storied legal career.

Beyond Peabody, Tribe currently represents the Bill Koch-funded Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound; 7-Eleven, Inc., QuikTrip Corp., and Kum & Go, L.C; along with the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute and many others in a class action lawsuit.

In the past, Tribe has also represented the likes of General Electric and Consumer Energy Alliance, an industry front group. An article by the Daily Climate's Marianne Lavelle points out some of Tribe's other corporate legal ties.

Allison Wood, the Hunton & Williams attorney testifying against the Clean Power Plan in concert with Tribe, also has represented (or currently represents) many industry actors. But she did not disclose any of them in her truth in testimony form submitted to the Committee, simply listing herself as a partner at the firm on the form and on her testimony.

Wood's clients have included American Electric Power, Southern Company, a utility industry front group called the Utility Air Regulatory Group, another utility industry front group called the Clean Air Markets GroupEdison Electric, as well as ExxonMobil and Murphy Oil.  

On her biography page for Hunton & Williams, Wood openly states that she served of counsel for industry clients, calling them “representative” of who she tends to work with.

“Her representative clients include companies and trade associations in the electric generation industry, petroleum industry, manufacturing industries, and transportation and land development industries,” reads the biography

Neither Tribe nor Wood responded to requests for comment sent via email by DeSmog. 

Photo Credit: U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce