As the New York Times, and Gristmill's indefatigable David Roberts are reporting, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has used a state securities law to press energy companies to disclose the risks of building coal-fired power plants.
According to the Times, Cuomo sent a letter to five major energy companies, along with subpoenas requesting company documents, that noted:
“Any one of the several new or likely regulatory initiatives for CO2 emissions from power plants — including state carbon controls, E.P.A.’s regulations under the Clean Air Act, or the enactment of federal global warming legislation — would add a significant cost to carbon-intensive coal generation," the letters said.
They added, "Selective disclosure of favorable information or omission of unfavorable information concerning climate change is misleading.”
(Links to the letters are available at the New York AG's website, here.)
Over the last several years, state attorneys general have been a powerful force for policy change at the state and federal levels. State AGs have been particularly innovative at using old laws in new ways to combat new challenges like global warming. We've seen this with Jerry Brown, who applied a state environmental law passed in 1970, the California Environmental Quality Act, to brand-new comprehensive development plans in California.
Cuomo's effort goes one better in terms of ingenuity. He's using a 1921 law, the Martin Act, which his predecessor, now-Governor Eliot Spitzer, revivified to take on Wall Street. As the Times notes, with considerable understatement, "It is rare, if not unique, for a securities law to be used for an environmental purpose...."
We hope more AGs are evaulating the legal tools they have at hand to enter the fray.