Just one week before Republican state attorneys general asked federal courts to reject the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which requires states to regulate emissions from electricity generation, they met privately — for a handsome fee — with energy companies Murray Energy and Southern Company, which are also suing to halt the plan’s implementation.
The timing of the secret meetings and financial contributions reveal what appears to be a well-coordinated effort to hobble the Obama administration’s climate policy agenda.
According to documents obtained by watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) — and first reported today by Bloomberg News' Jennifer Dlouhy — representatives of these and other fossil fuel-intensive energy companies, lobbying organizations, and front groups paid to attend the secretive but lavish August 2015 Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) summit in West Virginia.
Summit attendees had the chance to discuss their own priorities, as well as those of the state prosecutors — namely, raising funds for reelection — in the course of private meetings, expensive dinners, and recreational activities that included a shooting tournament sponsored by the National Rifle Association.
Piecing together a paper trail, CMD identified Murray Energy and Southern Company as having shelled out extra money to secure private briefings with attorneys general at the annual RAGA summit.
“That’s highly inappropriate for law enforcement officials in a majority of states to be holding private meetings with corporations that they are supposed to be holding to account,” Nick Surgey, CMD Research Director, told DeSmog.
CMD’s investigation also revealed some of the same Republican attorneys general talking about “the future of the fight to stop the Clean Power Plan” at an April 2016 meeting of RAGA’s 501(c)(4) organization, the Rule of Law Defense Fund. These types of groups function as nonprofits and can also work to influence elections and politics but unlike RAGA, which is a tax-exempt 527 political organization, its Rule of Law Defense Fund group does not need to disclose its donors. However, RAGA itself appears to be as tight-lipped as possible about its own meetings and activities.
“I think the thing that is most troubling is it’s not just the fact that they’re holding these private meetings. It’s not just the fact that Murray Energy wants to influence the actions of an attorney general,” says Surgey of CMD. “It’s that those corporations are paying into a fund that is helping to reelect the same elected officials that they are asking for something from.”
DeSmog has reported previously on the close ties between the GOP attorneys general fighting the Clean Power Plan and the same companies that are pouring millions of dollars into their coffers:
“Republican attorneys general from states like Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Texas are listed alongside the general counsel for fossil fuel companies like Murray Energy and Entergy Corporation, lobbying groups like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, climate-denying think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and a number of utility corporations.”
Several of these same organizations, their legal counsel, or affiliate groups were in attendance at the 2015 RAGA summit. A CMD press release reports that “corporations can pay a premium rate RAGA membership fee of up to $125,000 for the privilege of holding private briefings with attorneys general and their staff, as well as attending the annual meeting.”
An agenda for the 2015 RAGA annual meeting, sent from the organization’s executive director Scott Will, instructs attorneys general to “please be prepared to attend ALL of the meetings and activities on your agenda. In order to support the continuous growth of RAGA it will be critical to spend as much time as possible with as many different members as possible.” (Emphasis original.)
Another telling hallmark of the RAGA annual meeting and its members’ apparent collusion against the Clean Power Plan was a panel named, “The Dangerous Consequences of the Clean Power Plan & Other EPA Rules.”
The panel included three Republican attorneys general who would proceed the following week to sue the EPA and eventually succeed in staying the plan’s implementation. It also featured representatives from Murray Energy and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).
These two organizations also are involved in the Clean Power Plan lawsuit and have contributed $250,000 and $378,250, respectively, to RAGA in the past year. Serving on a panel at the annual summit is a RAGA member benefit listed only at the top two giving levels.
The attorneys general on this panel were Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma, Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia, and Ken Paxton of Texas — all states heavily reliant on the fossil fuel industry.
The New York Times uncovered this close relationship between Republican attorneys general and energy companies in a 2014 investigation that found such companies had donated no less than $16 million to the officials’ campaigns in 2014 alone.
In exchange, attorneys general such as Pruitt from Oklahoma were passing as their own barely edited form letters from oil and gas lobbyists complaining about environmental regulations.
Also in attendance at the 2015 RAGA summit were representatives of Koch Industries, a notorious funder of climate denial groups and $350,000 donor to RAGA in 2016, and America Rising LLC, a for-profit opposition research company known for tracking and targeting Democrats such as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and prominent progressives, including environmentalists Bill McKibben and Tom Steyer.
In February 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to put the Clean Power Plan on hold, at the request of the suing states and industries, until all legal matters surrounding it were resolved. The next step comes this month when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments for this case.
As CMD’s investigation shows, the Republican state attorneys general and fossil fuel industry representatives appear to have collaborated, quite profitably, on this legal battle for more than a year.
Main photo: Republican Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma. Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0