The D.C. Council this month passed legislation to allow the District of Columbia’s attorney general to sue individuals and businesses for political reasons without accountability. It did so under the “emergency” powers of the district, avoiding the checks and balances of the regular legislative process. This misuse of government power is unprecedented, undemocratic, and unnerving.
The legislation in question exempts the district from “anti-SLAPP” laws, which protect people from being sued in an effort to intimidate them from engaging in public policy debates. SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” and anti-SLAPP laws are widely supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, media organizations, and others as core safeguards protecting free speech.
So what is this all about? Climate change politics.
In a letter to the council, the attorney general said he wants to be exempt from anti-SLAPP accountability in order to maintain his lawsuit against energy manufacturers over their involvement in the climate change debate. Whatever one’s political persuasion or view on climate and energy, this litigation and the anti-SLAPP exemption are horrible ideas.
This litigation is not about whether climate change is a serious problem. It is. The only path forward is to innovate new ways for the world to source and use energy so it can do so sustainably.
However, developing such climate policies has proven difficult; they often present complex problems rife with regional and political differences. After all, they affect basic aspects of all of our lives: how we heat and cool our homes, fuel our cars, power our workplaces, and so much more. It is frustrating that partisan politics has paralyzed Washington over the past few years on lots of topics, let alone on critical, complicated issues such as climate change.
Scapegoating energy companies for Congress’s dysfunction, though, is no way to make climate policy, even if it makes for good politics in some circles. The Supreme Court already said so in response to a previous attempt at this litigation. In 2011, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court said balancing the competing interests involved in energy policy, including affordability, energy independence, and climate, is something only Congress can do.
Read the full op-ed here.