- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2019

The idea behind billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg’s State Impact Center was to promote a climate change agenda by providing state attorneys general with privately paid legal staff, and it seems to be working in New Mexico.

One of the state’s legal fellows, Robert Lundin, kept plenty busy in his first year, providing the “official legislative analysis” for the state’s “mini-Green New Deal” legislation, which passed in March, and working on the legal strategy to shut down a coal-fired electricity plant near Farmington.

“Mr. Lundin was involved in the on-going process to shut down San Juan Generating Station — a large, coal-fired power plant in New Mexico,” said the attorney general’s periodic report for the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University School of Law.

“He and lead counsel discussed legal strategy with many stakeholders to determine a course of action in regards to initiating a proceeding to retire the plant,” the report said. “The [Public Regulation] Commission then, following the strategy … ordered the public utility to abandon the coal plant.”

The report, obtained through an open records request by Power the Future, offers the first public glimpse at the work being done by the Bloomberg legal fellows, or special assistant attorneys general, since the hotly debated program was announced in 2017.

Larry Behrens, Western States director of Power the Future, an all-of-the-above energy advocacy group, said the four-page document from the New Mexico attorney general’s office shows that the embedded climate advocates are influencing state decision-making.

He said Mr. Lundin was tasked with undertaking the “official analysis” of legislation to increase the state’s renewable-portfolio standard to 100% carbon-free electricity generation by 2045, “which would lead the nation,” the report said.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, signed the Energy Transition Act, also known as the “mini-Green New Deal,” in March.

“Here you have someone who is paid by Michael Bloomberg and who is putting forward an official opinion from the New Mexico attorney general’s office about policy in New Mexico,” Mr. Behrens said.

Matt Baca, spokesman for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, said the special assistant attorneys general answer to the state, not the Bloomberg-funded center in New York City.

“New Mexico Attorney General employees are not supervised, directed, or controlled by NYU or the State Impact Center,” Mr. Baca wrote in an email. “The Attorney General’s office only represents the people of New Mexico, from maximizing trust royalties from oil and gas revenue for school children to ensuring that indigenous communities are protected from further environmental pollution.”

At least seven states, all led by Democratic attorneys general, have been chosen to receive the privately funded legal fellows “dedicated to working on clean energy, climate change and environmental matters of national and regional importance,” according to the center.

Not all states are comfortable with the specter of staffing the state prosecutor’s office with privately funded climate lawyers. In April, the majority Republicans in the Virginia legislature banned the state from participating in the program.

New Mexico has brought on two special assistant attorneys general for two-year terms, according to emails from the attorney general’s office, but not without controversy.

The Albuquerque Journal said the “top prosecutorial office in the state needs to be above reproach, and Balderas has to recognize this arrangement is not.”

“While it added two attorneys to his staff, it did so at the expense of his office’s independence and impartiality — even if it’s in appearance only,” said the July 19 editorial. “It’s essential Balderas takes a step back and remembers who elected him and whom he works for.”

An August 2018 report by Chris Horner, then a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the “unprecedented arrangement operates in a gray area with neither prohibition nor authority.”

In its hiring agreement, the center requires states to submit four periodic reports during the special assistant attorneys general’s two-year term about “the contribution that the legal fellow has made to clean energy, climate change, and environmental initiatives.”

Such reports are subject to open records requests. In New Mexico’s case, that requirement has since been dropped, according to a March 8 email from State Impact Center Deputy Director Elizabeth Klein.

“This email confirms that there’s no need to provide the periodic update referenced in the second agreement,” Ms. Klein told state officials.

The agreement also stipulated that the legal fellows must avoid activities that would “carry on propaganda” or involve lobbying.

The periodic report for Mr. Lundin showed that he also worked on an electricity sales and revenue “decoupling” bill aimed at clearing the way for utilities to pursue renewable energy, and was involved in the office’s decision not to intervene in a challenge to a 500-megawatt wind energy project.

“The NMAG relied on Mr. Lundin’s analysis to abstain from intervening in the case,” the report said.

It was unclear which project was referenced, given that locals and environmentalists have raised objections in recent years to several wind farm initiatives and the resulting transmission lines as New Mexico seeks to become a wind energy leader.

Dairy farmers in Bosque, New Mexico, launched in June a petition to stop Pattern Development from constructing a massive 800-megawatt “Western Spirit” transmission line aimed at transporting wind power to the grid, calling it an “eyesore” and a “health scare,” KRQE-TV reported.

Mr. Behrens called the Bloomberg climate program “detrimental to our state,” given that New Mexico’s recent oil and gas boom has brought unprecedented riches to the traditionally poor state, allowing the governor to offer free public college tuition to residents.

“Our energy workers are providing not only energy to New Mexico, but to the rest of the country, helping us to become energy independent and providing billions of dollars to our state economy,” Mr. Behrens said. “But there are radical environmental out-of-state groups working to undermine that. And those connections need to be highlighted.”

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