Attorneys General in Five States Choose Fossil Fuel Money Over Constituents

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Attorneys general (AGs) for five US states are protecting fossil fuel companies rather than the public interest, according to a March 2023 report by Elliott Negin for the Equation, a publication of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Each of the states—Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas—have sustained billions of dollars in climate change-related damage,” Negin reported, but “their AGs routinely collaborate on lawsuits and other actions to attack federal environmental safeguards.”

For example, the attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, has declared his opposition to the “radical climate change movement.” As AG, Paxton has repeatedly sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For instance, in 2021 he joined other state AGs in a lawsuit that challenged the EPA’s authority to curb power plant carbon emissions. Although the Supreme Court’s ruling in West Virginia v. EPA upheld the agency’s authority to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act, the decision significantly constrained its ability to do so. As Negin reported, “Paxton’s constituents are suffering from heat, drought, flooding, hurricanes, and wildfires, all exacerbated by climate change.” But the Texas AG has received more than $3.9 million in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry since 2002, according to OpenSecrets. (In May 2023, the Texas House of Representatives impeached AG Ken Paxton over allegations of bribery, unfitness for office, and abuse of public trust.)

Jeff Landry, attorney general of Louisiana, has also positioned himself against the EPA. In October 2021, for example, Landry, Paxton, and eighteen other AGs pleaded with two Senate committees to vote against increased regulations on methane, a gas that has far more impact on climate change than Co2.

Lynn Finch, AG of Mississippi, fought against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s efforts to improve fuel economy standards. These proposals were projected to save Americans $140 billion in gas prices by the year 2030 and lower fuel usage by more than 200 billion gallons by 2050. Fitch has received $78,450 in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry since 2011, according to OpenSecrets.

South Carolina AG Alan Wilson has received more than $143,000 from electric utilities and fossil fuel companies. After he and 23 other climate-denier AGs threatened to sue the Security and Exchange Commission, the agency rejected a ruling requiring publicly traded companies to reveal their impact on the environment and provide solutions to limit their climate footprint.

Florida attorney general Ashley Moody filed a motion with the US Department of Transportation that opposed a bill requiring states to reduce their on-road Co2 emissions to net zero by 2050. Over a period of six years, Moody received close to $339,000 from fossil fuel companies and $300,000 from the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA).

Described by Negin as “a stealth power player,” RAGA has played a significant role in fighting climate legislation. According to leaked emails and documents, red state AGs provide lobbying groups and lawyers access to confidential meetings in exchange for campaign donations to RAGA. Depending on how much they pay, they receive access to RAGA retreats, conferences, and other events. Rather than acting in the interests of their constituents and the planet, RAGA-aligned AGs continue to line their pockets with fossil fuel money.

Establishment news outlets have not addressed the conflicts of interest raised by Negin’s report. For example, in February 2022, Fox Business covered Texas AG Ken Paxton joining other state AGs in a lawsuit against the EPA, but this coverage was far from critical. The only source Fox cited was a press release from Paxton’s office, and the report made no mention of his extensive financial ties to the oil and gas industry.

Independent news coverage has been almost as scant. Common Dreams and the LA Progressive reposted Negin’s original report. Two Florida newspapers, the Orlando Sentinel and the Tallahassee Democrat, ran commentary pieces on the topic, both authored by climate scientist Pam McVety and Negin.

Source: Elliott Negin, “These Attorney Generals Are Defending the Fossil Fuel Industry, Not Their States,” The Equation (Union of Concerned Scientists), March 29, 2023.

Student Researcher: Reagan Haynie (Loyola Marymount University)

Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)