West Virginia Attorney General, A Champion For Fossil Fuel Interests
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
There's a big showdown tomorrow over one of President Obama's signature environmental efforts - limiting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. The U.S. Appeals Court here in Washington will hear arguments in a suit against the EPA. It was brought by 27 state attorneys general led by West Virginia's AG. West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Glynis Board has more on what's motivating the main challenger.
GLYNIS BOARD, BYLINE: West Virginia's attorney general doesn't have a long history in the state. After a failed congressional bid in New Jersey, Patrick Morrisey set his sights on West Virginia. And his first order of business - going after the federal government.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: West Virginia needs an attorney general to stand up to Obama and the EPA's job-killing regulations. That's Patrick Morrisey.
BOARD: In 2012 Morrisey loaned himself a million and a half dollars to way out-spend the Democratic incumbent who preceded him for two decades. Morrisey became the first Republican to win the office in West Virginia since 1933. Since then he's focused his attention on conservative causes like defending Second Amendment rights and fighting against transgender protections.
His proudest accomplishment - leading the charge against President Obama's Clean Power Plan, which is the nation's first ever attempt to limit carbon pollution from power plants. Morrisey says it's a federal overreach, and his coal-reliant state is already feeling the effects of the proposed regulations.
PATRICK MORRISEY: West Virginia has bled jobs in part due to these regulations that are coming out of Washington. If we can reverse that, tens of thousands of people will benefit.
BOARD: Coal is largely seeing a decline because other fossil fuels like natural gas are cheaper at the moment. Still, Morrisey's mission to win back coal jobs has made him an adversary to plenty, including Joe Lovett of the law and policy center Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
JOE LOVETT: He's used the attorney general's office to promote the coal industry's anti-regulatory crusade against climate change regulations.
BOARD: Of course he's also made a lot of friends, like Chris Hamilton of the West Virginia Coal Association.
CHRIS HAMILTON: Morrisey's been on point crusading. Not only has he able to effectively involve various special interest groups here in West Virginia. He has created a nationwide coalition of attorneys generals.
BOARD: Twenty-two of the 27 states challenging the Clean Power Plan have Republican attorneys general. Fifty years ago these positions were mostly held by Democrats.
Colin Provost is a public policy professor at University College London. He explained via Skype that the role became more partisan after Democratic-led attorneys general aligned in the late '90s to take on the tobacco industry and won.
COLIN PROVOST: In the last 15 years or so the Republican attorneys general have really gotten on board and kind of push their own interests as well.
BOARD: In 2014, for the first time in American history, more Republicans than Democrats held the office of state attorney general. In West Virginia, Morrisey's come under scrutiny. He used to be a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies, and he has close ties to energy interests.
MORRISEY: We have to protect every single job that we can here in West Virginia. And that's an important role for the attorney general.
BOARD: Morrisey predicts the coal industry in Appalachia could rebound if these regulations are struck down. Ultimately the Clean Power Plan will likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, he's hopeful his efforts will reel-in federal regulators. For NPR News, I'm Glynis Board in Wheeling, W.V.
SIEGEL: And that report came to us from the public radio reporting collaboration Ohio Valley ReSource. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.