The United States was born out of a revolution against, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, an “arbitrary government” that put men on trial “for pretended offences” and “abolish[ed] the Free System of English laws.” Brave men and women stood up to that oppressive government, and this, the greatest democracy of them all, one that is governed by the rule of law and not by men, is the product.
Some of our states have forgotten this founding principle and are acting less like Jefferson and Adams and more like George III. A group of Democratic attorneys general has announced it intends to criminally investigate oil and gas companies that have disputed the science behind man-made global warming. Backed by green-energy interests and environmentalist lobbying groups, the coalition has promised to use intrusive investigations, costly litigation, and criminal prosecutions to silence critics of its climate-change agenda. Pretended offenses, indeed.
We won’t be joining this coalition, and we hope that those attorneys general who have joined will disavow it. Healthy debate is the lifeblood of American democracy, and global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time. That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this tactic of advancing the climate-change agenda by any means necessary. President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is a particularly noteworthy example. This EPA regulation, one of the most ambitious ever proposed, will shutter coal-fired power plants, significantly increase the price of electricity for American consumers, and enact by executive fiat the very same cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions that Congress has rejected.
The Clean Power Plan was promulgated without any consultation with Congress. No bills were debated, no votes were taken, and the representatives of the American people had no opportunity to object or offer their own suggestions. The checks and balances built into our system of government were simply ignored as inconvenient impediments to the president’s agenda.
The Clean Power Plan was promulgated without any consultation with Congress. No bills were debated, no votes were taken.
But in our states, we believe in and govern with respect for the rule of law, rather than by ambition to use the power of our governments to stifle political opponents. That is why we are part of a very different kind of coalition, a coalition of 29 states seeking to vindicate the rule of law by challenging the legality of the Clean Power Plan in our courts. The 29 states and state attorneys general who are part of this effort respect our proper role, which is neither to pick winners and losers in the energy sector nor to silence those with whom we disagree. Rather, our job is to hold the EPA accountable to the laws that created it and to fulfill our statutory duties to ensure that consumers in our states have access to reliable, affordable energy. We will continue to pursue those goals and to present our arguments in the courts and in the public square, treating our opponents with the respect they deserve.
It’s unfortunate that this respect is not always returned. In their press conference, the group of state attorneys general called themselves an “unprecedented coalition.” On this point, they are correct. Rarely in our nation’s history has the police power of the state been so eagerly used to intimidate citizens into silence. But even more troubling are internal e-mails and other documents that indicate that this coercion was orchestrated not by the attorneys general themselves, but by green-energy advocacy groups using these officials as puppets to further their extreme agendas. This should frighten us all. Outside groups should not be able to use the power of the government as a sword to go after their political opponents.
We do not doubt the sincerity of the beliefs of our fellow attorneys general about climate change and the role human activity plays in it. But we call upon them to press those beliefs through debate, not through governmental intimidation of those who disagree with them. Few things could be more un-American.
— Scott Pruitt is the attorney general of Oklahoma. Luther Strange is the attorney general of Alabama.