Michigan can’t recover from suing fossil fuel industry

Michigan earned its reputation as the Arsenal of Democracy during World War II when the state’s industrial prowess was pivotal in supplying the Allied forces with the necessary armaments for victory. The legacy of this manufacturing might endures, with Michigan consistently ranking in the top 10 for its manufacturing capacity and output, its factories and industries driving the nation forward.

Yes, the state has weathered some turbulent recent shifts, largely influenced by economic uncertainties at the state and federal levels. But Michiganians are hearty and optimistic. However, if Attorney General Dana Nessel has her way, the state just might take a knock-out blow from which there will be no recovery.

Nessel recently announced she plans to sue the fossil fuel industry over its alleged contributions to climate change. Such a foolish action will have catastrophic consequences for our core industries, identity and way of life.

Fossil fuels’ importance to the automotive and manufacturing industries cannot be overstated. Michigan continues to rank number one in automobile production, and as the headquarters of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler (Stellantis), is responsible for nearly half of the vehicles produced in the United States. Many jobs — more than 1.1 million, according to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce — directly depend on the automotive and manufacturing industries. This symbiotic relationship sustains livelihoods and permeates various other industries, underscoring the fossil fuel sector’s role as a pillar of economic stability.

Despite the recent push to develop new energy technologies, these technologies remain in their infancy. They will not have wide applicability anytime soon, which means our state will continue to rely on oil, coal and natural gas to power their cars, heat their homes and run their factories for the foreseeable future.

Nessel’s ill-advised crusade will only increase costs for those struggling to pay their bills and keep ahead of inflation. She announced she is taking bids from private law firms to head up this massive litigation, with plans to appoint those selected as “Special Assistant Attorneys General” with full authority to act on behalf of the state throughout the course of the lawsuit. The winning firm would be paid a contingency fee in which lawyers would receive a portion of any money awarded through a successful lawsuit. This arrangement will incentivize the lucky winner to pursue this case aggressively, knowing their ultimate payday will depend on the settlement amount.

This disturbing trend of “outsourcing” the law to ideological cronies to further fund anti-growth crusades is a clear abuse of the trust placed in our elected officials.

In a statement, Nessel stated that while the initial focus of these legal efforts would be aimed at British Petroleum, ExxonMobil and Shell, she could not rule out including utilities or other industries at some point. This statement should strike fear in the hearts of every American.

Unless cooler heads prevail, we could soon find every industry we rely on under a costly and frivolous legal attack, funded and empowered by the very people we elect to lead us. No industry would be safe — and farming, manufacturing, transportation and food production would become especially at risk. Fossil fuels have generated enormous wealth and prosperity for many across the world. Suing the industries that brought us that prosperity is the height of ingratitude, akin to a child suing their parents after they nurtured and raised them to adulthood. It’s bad form — and worse policy. Nessel should stand down.

Mike Kowall served in the Michigan House of Representatives from 1999-2002 and the Michigan Senate from 2011-2018, where he served as Majority Floor Leader and a member of the Energy & Technology Committee.

Anna Harden

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