When New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman invited other Democrats to join his effort to pursue climate change skeptics, he was interested in more than bringing lawbreakers to justice.
A letter obtained by E&E Legal Institute and released Tuesday indicates Mr. Schneiderman was also interested in advancing the Obama administration’s climate-change agenda, including the Clean Power Plan and the Paris climate accord.
“The commitments of the United States and other nations at last year’s Paris climate change conference are very significant steps forward, but states must still play a critical role in ensuring that the promises made in Paris become reality,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a March 7 letter.
“Put simply, while we have accomplished a lot, much more action to stem climate change and expand the availability and usage of renewable energy is needed, and is needed now,” said the letter, which was also signed by Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell.
The letter offers fresh evidence that the Democratic-led coalition of 17 attorneys general was aimed at burnishing President Obama’s climate legacy as opposed to ferreting out wrongdoing in the form of climate change “fraud,” according to the institute.
“It is unprecedented to have the top state law enforcement officers waging a political war on behalf of the president at the cost of the First Amendment protections they are charged with upholding,” E&E senior legal fellow Chris Horner said in a statement.
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“This letter lays bare that the purpose of their investigations was to launch a political campaign to silence critics of the Administration,” Mr. Horner said.
Schneiderman spokesman Eric Soufer said Tuesday that the latest document reveals nothing new in that the attorneys general have already made public their support for Mr. Obama’s climate initiatives.
“We’ve been very vocal about defending the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan,” Mr. Soufer said. “In fact, our broad based support and amicus brief in support of the plan was the basis of the March 29 press conference, so I don’t really get how a pro forma letter inviting others to join us — as multiple AGs did — is surprising or new.”
Craig Richardson, E&E Legal Institute executive director, said the letter “makes inescapable the fact that the AGs’ goal was to defend and extend Obama’s environmental agenda.”
“That is a political cause, which the AGs seek to extend by improper means, circumventing the proper, democratic political process,” Mr. Richardson said in a statement.
Members of the coalition, known as AGs United for Clean Power, announced at a March 29 press conference that they would join forces to investigate whether companies like ExxonMobil and free market think tanks have intentionally misled the public by downplaying the extent and impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions.
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From the outset, however, critics have accused the prosecutors of waging an ideological battle to chill free speech, while Mr. Schneiderman has insisted that fraud is not protected by the First Amendment.
In April and May, the attorneys general signed a Common Interest Agreement in order to keep private their communications, which Mr. Soufer described as a “routine practice during a multistate investigation.”
The letter released Tuesday was addressed to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, the only member of the coalition who has not yet signed the agreement.
The institute argued that the coalition’s apparent political agenda makes it unlawful for the prosecutors to shield communications from open-records requests.
In its Tuesday press release, E&E Legal said it has already filed lawsuits aimed at obtaining “all public records these AGs are trying to keep secret” under the agreement.
Thirteen Republican attorneys general urged the Democrats in a June 15 letter to “stop policing viewpoints” with their climate change investigation, arguing that it sets a precedent for state prosecution of those who exaggerate the impact of climate change.