Koch Brothers Sue New York State to Jettison RGGI
Group linked to billionaire Koch brothers seeks end to New York role in greenhouse gas curb
Group linked to oilmen billionaires sues state to pull out of program
The Albany Times-Union, June 29, 2011
ALBANY -- A group tied to conservative Kansas petrochemical billionaires who fund campaigns to deny man-made climate change is pushing a lawsuit to kill New York's participation in a program to cut greenhouse gases.
The lawsuit seeks to bounce New York out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a 10-state program applied to electric power plants in the Northeast. Filed Monday in state Supreme Court in Albany County, the suit's lead plaintiff is Lisa Thrun, a Buffalo leader of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political action group supported by oilmen David and Charles Koch that is linked to the tea party movement.
RGGI is the nation's first state-level greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program, in which power plants must buy enough state-issued permits to cover emissions of carbon dioxide, which an international scientific consensus blames as the cause of man-made climate change.
The lawsuit categorizes RGGI as an illegal tax because former Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, launched the program in 2005 without approval from the state Legislature. AFP and tea party supporters have been pushing to undo RGGI in other states, including New Jersey -- where Republican Gov. Chris Christie this month said the state would drop out -- as well as Delaware, New Hampshire and Maine. Legislatures in those states, however, had approved RGGI.
New Jersey AFP Director Steve Lonegan, speaking at a news conference Tuesday, said New York lawmakers had "abdicated their responsibility" to vote on RGGI. And while AFP is helping finance the lawsuit, Lonegan denied that the Kochs -- whose company is one of the nation's largest polluters, according to a 2010 report from the University of Massachusetts -- were the driving force behind it.
The lawsuit names as defendants Gov. Andrew Cuomo; the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which administers RGGI; and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which oversees how RGGI funds are spent on alternative energy, conservation and green jobs projects.
Cuomo's office did not return calls seeking comment. NYSERDA and DEC declined comment.
Peter Iwanowicz, a former DEC commissioner and head of the state Office of Climate Change who is now an official with the American Lung Association, said, "It is clear that those who are behind the suit are standing up for polluters and their profits, and they care very little about the people in New York."
The lawsuit is also supported by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington D.C.
Lonegan said the action was not about whether man-made climate change was real. In the past, he has called the scientific consensus "doubtful" and a CEI official branded it as "phony."
Over the past three years, New York has raised more than $320 million from RGGI while adding less than 50 cents a month to the average residential power bill.
The state uses the money to support a green jobs program, plus energy efficiency and home weatherization efforts.
Last year, former Gov. David Paterson raided $90 million from RGGI funds to cover the state budget deficit, drawing fire from environmental groups and power plant owners.
In September 2010, when Lonegan, Thrun, AFP officials and tea party members rallied against RGGI in Manhattan, Lonegan called the program a shady scam. But another arm of the Koch business empire, Koch Trading, has been trading credits since the program started.