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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Op-Ed: Attorneys general as political ambulance chasers: America’s energy policy should be decided by legislation, not litigation

By George Brauchler | May 24, 2018


There is a new phenomenon sweeping America. Attorneys general have become ideological ambulance chasers, racing to court to file politically motivated lawsuits seeking to mandate policies too extreme and unpopular to win the support of Congress, state legislatures, or the public. 

From protecting sanctuary cities to demanding greater federal overreach into state affairs, certain AGs have sought to weaponize their offices, transforming from prosecutors and protectors of their state’s laws into a political mishmash of Don Quixote and Machiavelli. This is best highlighted by recent politically motivated climate change lawsuits.

Cities and counties in Colorado and Washington state are the latest to join California and New York City in a misguided crusade against America’s energy manufacturers. Their lawsuits castigate individual companies — some of whom do not even operate in the cities or states suing them — for global climate change, solely to impose financial penalties to justify perceived harm.

Colorado is the only home I have known. I hiked its trails as a cub scout, skied — and tumbled down — its slopes (still do). I learned how to lead troops as an Army cadet in its forests and on its challenging terrain. And every morning, as I head west to take my kids to school, I am reminded that we are in a beautiful part of the country. I am determined to turn over to my four children a Colorado every bit as beautiful and free as the one I inherited from my parents.

These lawsuits may clamor about climate change, but they do little to improve the environment or protect Colorado’s greatness. Instead, these lawsuits dramatically increase costs for Colorado’s families and businesses, while enriching trial lawyers on both sides of the issue. I believe it is important to protect my state’s environment. But endlessly suing lawful businesses to attempt policy change is not the Colorado way.

Like many Coloradans, including well-intentioned government officials, I believe that Congress and federal policymakers are not doing enough to address a multitude of critical issues. However, political lawsuits accomplish nothing other than greater costs and further erosion of the rule of law. 

These lawsuits are merely Trojan horses designed to drive an agenda at the expense of law-abiding companies, their employees, and the taxpayers who depend upon affordable and reliable energy. This debate has highlighted abuses of our judicial system at the hands of a group of minority interests, including those misusing the office of the attorney general.

Climate change lawsuits are not about enforcing laws. The plaintiffs, driven by seasoned activist attorneys, are using the façade of fairness to single out a single industry.  While our state has made significant strides in capitalizing on the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy, the job of attorney general should not be to pick economic winners and losers or to serve as political ambulance chasers, trying to force through coercive litigation what should be accomplished through collaborative legislation.

It is the role of state legislatures and Congress — not the attorney general — to craft policy solutions to the national and global challenges our country faces. Several years ago, four similar public nuisance lawsuits were filed. All four were rejected, including by the U.S. Supreme Court. As the Supreme Court explained, trying to drive climate change policy through the courts invades “an area within national legislative power.”

The Attorney General’s Office should indeed work to protect the environment and promote a thriving, state economy, but it should not take any action that threatens the checks and balances of our system that has made our Democracy so vibrant. 

George Brauchler is a district attorney, colonel in the Colorado Army National Guard and Republican candidate for Attorney General of Colorado.

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