Investigative Journalism Lives! — CMD Exposes GOP on Clean Air Plan

October 12, 2016

Patience, attention to detail, and public-records requests can still get you a bombshell story on the environmental beat. One recently tied coal and oil company megabucks to Republican attorneys general challenging the Clean Power Plan (CPP) in court.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put forth the CPP in 2015 to address global warming by requiring each state to come up with a tailored plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Coal and oil lobbies opposed it, and a coalition of Republican state attorneys general soon launched a court challenge.

Only recently, however did an investigative piece by Nick Surgey for the Center for Media and Democracy reveal that fossil-fuel groups had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), instigating and supporting the lawsuit. It's an exemplary piece of journalism — and a reminder that public-records requests are key.

Surgey and CMD had been working on the story for about a year. But it came out just before oral arguments in the CPP case before the federal Appeals Court in DC September 27, 2016. CMD filed public records requests state-by-state to the attorneys general offices, seeking information and communications from RAGA. Many stiff-armed the requests, but a few didn't. Bingo.

Surgey's work followed the path laid by a broader investigative series by the New York Times' Eric Lipton, which won a Pulitzer prize in 2015.

Surgey's initial RAGA success led to a subsequent scoop. Audio of a RAGA meeting provided to CMD by an undisclosed source showed that RAGA had held secret talks in 2016 on how to derail investigations into Exxon's denial of climate change.

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