How Can You Tell When a Politician is Doing it for Money, Or Just for Fun?

Source: flickr/gageskidmore

Source: flickr/gageskidmore

The New York Times recently came out with an article that I could not ignore. It looked at how Attorneys General across the country have been supported by campaign donations from a “secretive energy alliance” that includes some of the nation’s top fossil fuel power companies. Texas Attorney General and Governor-elect Greg Abbott received the most—a whopping $2.5 million, compared to the $577,000 for the next largest beneficiary of the polluters’ largess.

Abbott has been quoted as saying, “What I really do for fun is I go into the office, [and] I sue the Obama administration.” True to his word, Abbott has sued the federal government 30 times (27 since Obama took office), including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) eight times, spending at least $2.58 million of taxpayers' money and more than 14,113 in state employee staff hours in the process—all with little success. But, of course, those $2.5 million in campaign funds had no effect on his actions. He's doing it for fun.

In 2010, an EDF investigation revealed that Abbott had filed suits against Environmental Protection Agency’s health-based protections at the explicit email request of people working for the fossil fuel industry. An email exchange obtained under a Texas Open Records Act request shows an attorney at Vinson & Elkins, who represents many of the nation’s biggest polluters, urging Texas to challenge EPA’s clean air protections. As requested, Abbott filed suit and was represented by a New York law firm that also represents many big polluters, including Exxon.

Since the announcement of EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which would set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, Abbott has threatened to sue again. When he does, should we assume the dollars from the fossil fuel industry (almost five times more than the other Attorneys General) had no influence? Or is he still doing it just for fun?

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  • About the author

    Vice President, Clean Energy
    Jim Marston is the founding director of the Texas office of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), located in Austin, where he has served since its beginning in 1988. He is also a leader of the Pecan Street, Inc., a partnership that includes Austin Energy, the University of Texas, the Chamber of Commerce, and several large high/clean tech companies aimed at making fundamental changes in the nation's electricity grid.

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