Think Globally, Act Statewide

With climate denier Scott Pruitt poised to take over the Environmental Protection Agency, the states are going to play an important role in determining whether America continues to take bold steps to both reduce carbon pollution and hold the fossil-fuel industry accountable–and the industry and its elected lackeys know it:

Concerned about what he calls the “overcriminalization” of society, an East Texas lawmaker has drafted a bill that would protect one potential defendant not conventionally considered a marginalized victim of injustice: ExxonMobil.

State Rep. James White, R-Hillister, has proposed barring a defendant’s theories on climate change from being used as evidence in a fraud or deceptive practice case.

White told the American-Statesman he had in mind Irving-based Exxon, which Democratic state attorneys general targeted last year, claiming the company had lied to investors and the public about the threat of climate change…

“If your business model is selling gasoline, and your thing is you don’t think it’s that big an impact on global warming — OK,” he said. “I don’t see candy companies doing advertisements for dental offices, and I don’t see that as a conspiracy.”

Attorneys general from New York, Massachusetts and elsewhere, supported by environmental groups, announced their investigations after the news organizations InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times showed that Exxon played down the risks of climate change despite the company’s scientists having raised red flags about it. Reporters found that even though the company’s researchers as long as ago as the 1970s warned that the burning of fossil fuels would contribute to climate change, the company for decades sowed doubt about climate science by stressing uncertainty.

The polluters will likely get their way in Texas, just as they’ve had their way in New Jersey ever since Governor Chris Christie–at the apparent behest of the Koch Brothers–yanked the Garden State out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a successful multistate cap-and-trade program, in May 2011. Will they still have their way after this November’s gubernatorial election?

Another key issue facing the nine RGGI states involves expansion because RGGI was once viewed as an off-the-shelf way for states to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

New Jersey, the only state that joined and subsequently left RGGI, could rejoin the initiative under the next governor, according to [Mark] Kresowik [of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign]. Gov. Chris Christie (R) is term limited and will leave office in January 2018.

You can expect that the fossil-fuel industry will spare no expense to ensure that the Garden State’s next governor will continue Christie’s shameful legacy of genuflecting to the Kochs and treating climate action as a joke. The question is, will climate hawks be able to overcome the power of Big Oil’s bucks?

Of course, Donald Trump’s callousness on climate could actually end up working against the polluter agenda; the election of a governor committed to putting the state back into RGGI would be a critical strike against the Trump-Pruitt vision on climate and energy. It could well prove to be the first of many strikes in 2018–and beyond.

Whether it’s cap-and-trade or carbon taxes, the triumph over Trump’s extremism on energy must now occur on a state level (perhaps this is where the old-school Republican players pushing for a carbon tax should focus their efforts). The outcome of the 2017 gubernatorial election in New Jersey, and the outcome of gubernatorial and state legislative races in 2018, will determine whether America can still show some degree of leadership on climate in the aftermath of Trump’s Electoral College win.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.