Clean Energy Issues Are on the Docket for State Attorneys General

Solar panels

Last Fri­day in Boston, in con­nec­tion with host­ing a Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Attor­neys Gen­er­al (NAAG) East­ern Region meet­ing, Mass­a­chu­setts Attor­ney Gen­er­al Mau­ra Healey announced the release of our State Impact Center’s new report enti­tled: State Attor­neys Gen­er­al: Empow­er­ing the Clean Ener­gy Future.

The report high­lights the many key roles that state attor­neys gen­er­al are play­ing to facil­i­tate increased clean ener­gy deploy­ment in their states. Sec­tion I reviews AG activ­i­ties in the clean ener­gy are­na, includ­ing the fed­er­al government’s resis­tance to states’ exer­cise of their ener­gy rights, as well as in-state chal­lenges. Sec­tion II is filled with case exam­ples of recent clean ener­gy mat­ters in which AGs are engaged. And Sec­tion III presents a 50-state review of in-state ener­gy author­i­ties per­ti­nent to state AG offices.

The NAAG meet­ing was a fit­ting set­ting for the release of our report. It con­firmed how quick­ly times have changed. Fea­tured ses­sions includ­ed Atlantic Off­shore Wind; Cli­mate Resilience and Equi­ty in the North­east; and Decar­boniz­ing the Trans­porta­tion Sec­tor — top­ics that would not have been seen on an attor­ney gen­er­al agen­da five years ago.

Our clean ener­gy report con­firms that new forces are upend­ing the tra­di­tion­al, staid ener­gy reg­u­la­to­ry world. Ener­gy pol­i­cy is no longer a legal back­wa­ter, dom­i­nat­ed by slow-mov­ing pub­lic util­i­ty com­mis­sions focused on ensur­ing that state-sanc­tioned util­i­ties obtain an ade­quate return for the monop­oly ser­vices they pro­vide. Now, many oth­er state inter­ests are in play.

In par­tic­u­lar, prompt­ed by state con­cerns about cli­mate change, high oper­at­ing and envi­ron­men­tal costs of fos­sil fuel-based sys­tems, and the rapid emer­gence of clean ener­gy options, states have been lean­ing strong­ly into clean ener­gy, includ­ing by offer­ing com­pet­i­tive mar­ket oppor­tu­ni­ties for clean ener­gy inno­va­tors; increas­ing cus­tomer choice in the gen­er­a­tion and use of clean ener­gy; eval­u­at­ing pro­posed new fos­sil fuel infra­struc­ture against alter­na­tive clean ener­gy solu­tions; accel­er­at­ing the tran­si­tion of the trans­porta­tion sec­tor to clean ener­gy-based elec­tric­i­ty; and fight­ing against bailouts and sub­si­dies of non-com­pet­i­tive fos­sil fuel ener­gy sources.

As explained in our report, these state-based clean ener­gy ini­tia­tives are root­ed firm­ly in fed­er­al and state laws. Yet, pre­dictably, incum­bent ener­gy providers and their allies — includ­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment — are ques­tion­ing states’ rights to shape their desired ener­gy mix, as well as their rights to account for car­bon pol­lu­tion when eval­u­at­ing ener­gy options. State attor­neys gen­er­al will be busy defend­ing their states’ rights and inter­ests in the months and years ahead.

At the state lev­el, attor­neys gen­er­al also are play­ing a more promi­nent role. In states in which the attor­ney gen­er­al func­tions as the con­sumer advo­cate,” state AGs are expand­ing the tra­di­tion­al­ly nar­row, cost-based role of con­sumer advo­cate to ful­ly pro­tect states’ and their res­i­dents’ inter­ests in cli­mate change, equi­ty, and clean ener­gy. And state legal offi­cers are using the full pow­ers of their offices to ensure that new state laws and poli­cies favor­ing clean ener­gy solu­tions are not way­laid by incum­bent ener­gy providers and their reg­u­la­to­ry part­ners.

We hope that you enjoy the report. Please flip through it, down­load it, and book­mark it as an impor­tant ref­er­ence. Spe­cial thanks to our Center’s Clean Ener­gy Attor­ney, Jes­si­ca Bell, who over­saw prepa­ra­tion of the report, with sub­stan­tial assis­tance from Ham­p­den Mac­beth and Stephen Read, among others.