Al Gore was the headliner with a supporting cast of seven Democratic state attorneys general. But the real stars of the show were two climate-change activists you’ve probably never heard of: Matt Pawa and Peter Frumhoff.
Pawa and Frumhoff – who serve on the advisory board of the Climate Accountability Institute in Snowmass, Colo. – met in secret with the attorneys general on March 29, just hours before the “AGs United for Clean Power” press conference in New York City. According to newly released documents, the activists were invited by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) to brief the officials on a new strategy for attacking critics of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and broader environmental agenda.
The strategy calls for state attorneys general to launch investigations into companies and think tanks for their views on climate change. It was first developed by Pawa, Frumhoff and a handful of other environmental activists four years ago at a conference in La Jolla, Calif. After a series of defeats – including the humiliating failure of cap-and-trade climate legislation in a Democratic Congress – the activists figured they could use civil and criminal laws to force their opponents into supporting “legislative and regulatory responses to global warming,” according to a report on the La Jolla conference.
To have the greatest impact, however, the activists needed government officials with subpoena powers to adopt this strategy, and they found their man in Schneiderman. In late 2015, he launched his own climate investigation, but ran into immediate problems.
‘Completely politically motivated’
His inquiry was based exclusively on a series of so-called news reports that were actually funded by left-wing foundations that oppose fossil fuels. The same foundations also fund fringe environmental groups, such as Bill McKibben’s 350.org, which used those articles to support Scheiderman and pressure other attorneys general to follow suit. In effect, the New York investigation was the product of an echo chamber and devoid of any substance, just like the New York fracking ban, which I have written and testified about for the industry-backed Energy In Depth program.
After it was announced, legal experts and editorial boards variously described the Schneiderman investigation as “completely politically motivated,” “preposterous,” “profoundly dangerous,” and an “assault on the free-speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Schneiderman’s climate crusade was in trouble.
He soon convinced California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) to join the effort, but it didn’t help much, because she was running in the Democratic primary for California’s open U.S. Senate seat. To give the investigation credibility, Schneiderman needed other states to sign up.
Meet the architects – in secret
On the morning of the March 29 press conference, a number of attorneys general were interested, but they needed a briefing on how it would all work. Who better to lead that briefing than two of the original architects? After years of planning, lobbying and campaigning, this was a big moment for Pawa and Frumhoff.
But there was a catch. The New York Attorney General’s office did not want the press or the public to know about the involvement of environmental activists, according to e-mails obtained by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute. For Pawa especially, this was a big problem. The day after the briefing, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal wanted an interview.
“What should I say if she asks if I attended?” Pawa asked in an e-mail to Lem Srolovic, the head of Schneiderman’s Environmental Protection Bureau. “My ask is if you speak to the reporter, to not confirm that you attended or otherwise discuss the event,” Srolovic replied.
But the effort to maintain secrecy goes much deeper than that. The e-mails obtained by EELI show officials at the briefing were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement ahead of time. A draft of the “common interest agreement” even calls for the attorneys general to evade transparency laws in their home states. In the event of a public records request, they would refuse to disclose any shared documents, or return those documents to New York so they no longer had possession.
It’s unclear whether the agreement was ever signed by those who attended. In an e-mail sent the day before the briefing and press conference, Vermont officials raised legal concerns about sending documents back across state lines to avoid a public records request. Interestingly, the same e-mail suggests the non-disclosure agreement was intended to protect the two activists leading the briefing and their strategy for defending the Obama climate agenda. “Matt and Peter should stick to what is in the public domain or be prepared to have those materials become public,” the Vermont official wrote.
‘Climate deniers have no place in public life’
Not surprisingly, Schneiderman officials are working hard to explain away the significance of the e-mails. Secretly coordinating with outside groups, misleading the public and evading the law are what they accuse others of doing, after all.
“The office routinely collaborates with other states and receives input from outside organizations,” a spokesman for the New York attorney general told Fox News. “Ultimately, decisions on which cases we pursue are based solely on the merits and the law – and nothing else.”
But that’s not true. This whole affair is politically motivated. Just ask the best rebuttal witness you’ll ever find: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D).
“I can’t really argue with Tom Steyer’s effort to say climate deniers have no place in public life in America,” Schneiderman said in a 2014 speech, referencing the billionaire Democratic donor and climate activist. Later in the same speech, he lamented that regular citizens are “passively resisting the imperative to action” and called for a “shift in public consciousness.” He then issued a call to action: “Our first and foremost responsibility is to create the political imperative in the United States for our leaders to take action.”
That speech took place one day after a major climate march in New York City, organized by 350.org. Schneiderman and his staff marched shoulder-to-shoulder with the activists, and when asked why, the attorney general said: “I’m proud to be part of it. My Environmental Protection Bureau and other lawyers who work on these issues are here with us. And we’re just [a] committed part of this movement.”
The activist attorney general
This wasn’t pandering to the crowd, either. Across a range of left-wing priorities – including new laws, regulations, taxes and subsidies in the name of climate change – Schneiderman is one of the best allies the activists could possibly hope for.
“This is a campaign, and it has been from the first day, of activists,” he declared in 2010 when he was first elected to the office of New York attorney general. “I believe in movement politics. I believe in being a part of a collective that works for the common good. You are my collective.”
At the end of his 2010 victory speech, Schneiderman concluded: “For all of the activists: This is our moment.”
Maybe so, but moments pass. The Constitution, on the other hand, has endured for more than two centuries and the free-speech protections of the First Amendment aren’t going away anytime soon. The New York attorney general will learn that soon enough, and when he does, he’ll find out something else as well: The Constitution was designed to protect Americans from politicians like Eric Schneiderman.
Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups. From 2004 to 2012, he was a news reporter covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.