News Story

Nessel oil and gas lawsuit ‘grave abuse of power,’ business leaders say

Michigan Chamber of Commerce warns lawsuit will interrupt population, job goals

Attorney General Dana Nessel’s planned lawsuit targeting oil and gas companies would set a “highly dangerous precedent,” the Michigan Chamber of Commerce announced recently.

Nessel has been seeking legal arguments from attorneys experienced in pursuing constitutional, statutory, tort and other applicable common law claims. Specifically, she aims to have these private-practice lawyers serve as special assistant attorneys general in litigation against companies that allegedly contribute to climate change.

Nessel’s request for proposals expires today, but the Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses in all 83 counties, in May called the attorney general’s move “a capricious attack on the business community.” The plan, it said, would create powerful state-backed incentives for private law firms to seek settlements from Michigan companies.

“It runs directly counter to the goals of growing our state population, economy and manufacturing and energy sectors,” Mike Alaimo, the chamber’s director of environmental and energy affairs, told Michigan Capitol Confidential in an email.

The chamber said the intended legal argument is unclear, as are the potential defendants in the lawsuit.

“It seems like a grave abuse of the power and authority of the Department of Attorney General,” Alaimo wrote. “Using a contingency-fee solicitation to private law firms who are highly incentivized to potentially benefit from such a lawsuit creates significant concern that a state office could go this route on any number of issues without a clear rationale for doing so.”

Nessel claims climate change decreases tourism, harms agriculture and depletes Michigan’s tax base.

“Our ‘Pure Michigan’ identity is under threat from the effects of climate change,” Nessel said in a news release. “Warmer temperatures are shrinking ski seasons in the UP and disrupting the wonderful blooms of Holland’s Tulip Time Festival. Severe weather events are on the rise. These impacts threaten not only our way of life but also our economy and pose long-term risks to Michigan’s thriving agribusiness. The fossil fuel industry, despite knowing about these consequences, prioritized profits over people and the environment. Pursuing this litigation will allow us to recoup our costs and hold those responsible for jeopardizing Michigan’s economic future and way of life accountable.”

Nessel’s office said proposals will be accepted through a blind-bid process, seeking contracts with the best qualifications, experience, abilities, capacity and cost-effectiveness.

Sen. Joseph Bellino, R-Monroe, and the entire Republican Senate caucus sent a letter to Nessel, opposing the planned lawsuit.

“This frivolous and dangerous lawsuit idea is a waste of taxpayer dollars, an abuse of power and an illustration of the attorney general’s complete lack of understanding of her role in state government,” Bellino said in a separate statement.

The lawsuit follows Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Nessel’s ongoing attempt to shutter the Line 5 pipeline, an effort they have been pursuing since 2019 — in the face of opposition from both the Biden administration and the Canadian government. The legal limbo created by the governor’s effort jeopardizes longstanding plans to upgrade the pipeline’s safety by burying it beneath the lakebed. Line 5 has carried about 540,000 gallons of hydrocarbons daily across the lakebed of Lake Michigan since 1953.

Democratic Party leaders say they fear a spill similar to the 2010 oil spill near the Kalamazoo River.

Bellino’s statement pointed to the value of oil and gas. “We use these resources to get our kids to school; transport goods to stores; heat our homes; grow, preserve and cook our food; provide health care; and supply the electricity needed to power our economy and electric vehicles — not to mention that our state’s largest industry and largest job providers literally would not exist without them,” Bellino wrote.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.