We’ve all the seen the headlines:
“Judge blocks Trump’s travel ban.”
“Democratic AGs step up legal fight against Trump travel ban.”
In the past few months, Democratic Attorneys General have emerged at the forefront of the anti-Trump resistance, making waves by racking up legal victories against the two travel ban executive orders. But that’s not all they’ve been up to: Democratic AGs have taken legal action against the administration for delaying energy efficiency standards, are investigating Exxon Mobil for making potentially fraudulent claims about climate change, and have joined forces to urge Congress to preserve EPA funding. As the administration plans to curtail environmental regulations, Democratic AGs have stepped up to mitigate some of the damage.
This semester, I’ve had the privilege of interning for the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA), which aims to support and elect Democratic AGs and educate the public about the importance of AGs in our political system. In this role, I’ve researched some of the actions Attorneys General have taken on environmental issues, particularly as former Oklahoma AG (and climate denier) Scott Pruitt has taken the reins at the EPA. I’ve also helped curate social media content across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the organization, on a variety of issues. Here’s what I’ve found.
During the Obama administration, Republican AGs began to collaborate more often, and banded together to oppose environmental protections. Most notably, Republican AGs formed coalitions to take legal action against the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the U.S. Rule, and the Stream Protection Rule. They were aided by hefty donations from the fossil fuel industry, and Koch Industries in particular. When Pruitt became EPA administrator, emails released from his time as Oklahoma AG showed the depth of ties between his office and Big Oil companies.
Unfortunately, over the past few months, President Trump and Congress have managed to roll back some of these protections. But all hope is not lost. Building on the same legal tactics employed by Republican AGs, Democratic AGs are filing lawsuits and amicus briefs to safeguard important environmental and consumer protections. In the past few weeks alone, California AG Xavier Becerra filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information about Pruitt’s ties to the oil and gas industries, Massachusetts AG Maura Healey scored a win in her investigation into Exxon, and a coalition of AGs filed a lawsuit accusing the administration of violating federal law by delaying the release of energy standards.
DAGA’s most engaged grassroots supports have noticed. Our 150,000 and counting Facebook followers have responded most enthusiastically to posts about environmental action - garnering over a thousand more likes per post on average than posts on other topics such as student loan reform, voting rights, and healthcare. On Twitter, tweets and retweets from @DemocraticAGs generally receive more interactions than other types of content. And on Instagram - a medium which can be difficult to build up for political organizations - posts about environmental issues have attracted respectable attention as well, in comparison to posts about other issue areas on our page.
As we approach elections in 2017, 2018, and beyond, Democratic AGs will undoubtedly play a key role in shaping the environmental policy debate. Ensuring that the public knows about the responsibilities and powers of attorneys general will be critical as well. Social media plays a vital part in shaping public awareness about these issues, and advocacy organizations should employ succinct, accessible, and honest messaging about the key actors and actions in policy debates to allow voters to make the best possible decision come election time.