West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (left) and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (right) are leading the state factions at war over climate rules. Photos courtesy of the West Virginia and New York offices of attorneys general.
West Virginia's top prosecutor is a coal-state Republican who lives in a historic river town, has an office guarded by taxidermied bears and loves to hate government regulations. New York's attorney general is a Democratic health food fanatic who does yoga, lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side and has a penchant for going after big corporations.
They are rival generals in the legal war over the Obama administration's signature climate change rule.
West Virginia's Patrick Morrisey and New York's Eric Schneiderman both see taking a strong stand on the issue as a winner in their home states. Most with a stake in the climate debate love one and loathe the other, catapulting both of them into the national spotlight.
Fame has been welcome for the two political up-and-comers who are both widely seen as eyeing higher office. For either, a big win in what's been dubbed the Super Bowl of climate litigation will be a major boost for his resume.
Morrisey, 48, is a New York native and former congressional staffer who's made fighting federal environmental rules central to his job as West Virginia's top prosecutor.
"West Virginia is really ground zero in the Obama administration's illegal and unprecedented assault against coal miners and their families, " Morrisey told Greenwire.
President Obama's regulations helped spur him to run for office in 2012, he said, after he saw West Virginians suffering from what he called overreaching and illegal EPA rules.
Morrisey hates the Clean Power Plan so much that his office made sure one of his staffers - Assistant Attorney General J. Zak Ritchie - was first in line at a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., on the day lawsuits could be filed. Handing their petition in first meant they'd have the distinction of being named on the case now known as West Virginia v. EPA.
The behemoth lawsuit over the Clean Power Plan is still pending, with oral arguments slated for June 2. Nearly every state is on one side or the other, and industry groups, greens and scores of other interested parties have jumped into the fight. Morrisey's office already won a big early victory this year when the Supreme Court granted the unprecedented request from 27 states led by West Virginia and numerous industry groups to freeze the rule while the litigation plays out in the lower court.
Morrisey appeared gleeful during a news conference he held after the Supreme Court announced it would halt the rule - a move that surprised even many of those who had asked the high court to step in.
Speaking at a podium - wearing a blue pinstriped suit with his cropped white and gray hair swept to one side and dark eyebrows that point upward - Morrisey smiled as he described the justices' action as "truly historic" and "a win for coal miners and their families here in the Mountain State." He listed some of the other legal battles he's waged against the Obama administration's environmental policies.
"For years, I've fought Obama administration overreach and I've looked to stop these illegal EPA regulations that violate the rule of law and compromise our way of life here in West Virginia, " he said.
His EPA offensive has won him accolades from the energy industry and Republicans.
"You're talking about a lawyer who's got something that no one else has ever gotten out of the Supreme Court, " Republican energy strategist Mike McKenna said. "I would be amazed if this were his last stop. He's going to be an important guy at some point."
Scott Segal, an industry attorney at Bracewell, called Morrisey an "unquestionable leader" in the effort to attack the Clean Power Plan. He's "articulate and knowledgeable regarding the statutory, constitutional and administrative challenges the rule faces, " Segal said.
Morrisey and his crusade against the administration's environmental rules have also been spurned by greens in West Virginia and nationally.
William DePaulo, a West Virginia environmental attorney, questions whether Morrisey has the authority to represent the state in the Clean Power Plan litigation. DePaulo said in an interview that Morrisey's anti-EPA litigation is a "way of pandering to unemployed coal miners."
DePaulo added, "I don't like the fact that my state is being used as a tool for the advancement of some ideology that has no correspondence to the interest of the state." He said Morrisey represents "his buddies over at the Federalist Society and nobody else."
Morrisey, who bought a home in Harpers Ferry in 2006 and was admitted to the state bar just days before signing up to run for attorney general in 2012, is seen by some critics as an outsider using the state to advance a political career. Morrisey previously lost a bid for a New Jersey congressional seat in 2000.
"Morrisey has no real connection to West Virginia, " DePaulo said. "He's clearly using us as a stepping stone."
Environmental lawyer Matt Pawa said Morrisey is trying to "keep us burning rocks from the dinosaur era" and is "on the wrong side of history" when it comes to climate change.
Schneiderman: hero or bully?
Meanwhile, in the Empire State, Schneiderman has been leading the 18 states defending the rule that underpins Obama's environmental legacy. The rule represents the first national regulation to cut power plants' greenhouse gas emissions, and aims to slash carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
"Climate change represents an unprecedented threat to the environment, public health and our economy, " Schneiderman said last November when he announced he was leading a coalition of states, cities and counties in defense of the Clean Power Plan. "We no longer can afford to respond to this threat with denials or obstruction."
The Clean Power Plan fight isn't Schneiderman's only climate campaign. His office is also making waves for its investigation into allegations that Exxon Mobil Corp. misled investors and the public about the impacts of climate change - claims that have sparked a backlash from Exxon and Schneiderman's critics.
The New York attorney general convened a news conference in March with former Vice President Al Gore and a handful of other state attorneys general to announce a new state coalition that vowed to "defend climate change progress made under President Obama and to push the next president for even more aggressive action."
His rhetoric supporting climate regulations and attacking fossil fuel companies is as fiery as is Morrisey's on the other side.