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Democratic Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is facing criticism from his Republican challenger for prioritizing a climate change lawsuit over tackling violent crime fallout since George Floyd’s killing.
Jim Schultz, who recently won the GOP attorney general primary earlier this month, has made criticizing Ellison’s lawsuit aimed at holding fossil fuel firms accountable for allegedly deceiving the public on climate change an issue on his campaign while vying to take over the helm as the state’s top prosecutor.
In a recent interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Schultz described litigation spearheaded by the Democratic state attorney general as “frivolous,” arguing that it has “zero chance of succeeding” and is “fundamentally motivated by headlines and pleasing one side of the political aisle.”
“The Attorney General’s Office is not supposed to be engaging in far-left political activism, or activism of any kind,” the Republican candidate said. “I will not engage in things like this that are fundamentally about business harassment.”
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Schultz argued Ellison should instead focus on hiring more prosecutors tasked with addressing violent crime that has been soaring statewide since Minneapolis erupted in violent demonstrations and became the epicenter of the defund the police movement in reaction to the police killing of Floyd in 2020.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s 2021 uniform crime report released on Aug. 12, the state saw a 21.6% increase in violent crime last year.
Violent crime in greater Minnesota rose by 16% in 2021. In the seven-county metro area – comprised of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington counties – violent crime rose by 23.9%, according to the annual report. Motor vehicle thefts statewide were at the highest since 2001.
Ellison’s lawsuit filed in 2020 alleges that American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil and Koch Industries misled Minnesota consumers for years about the alleged consequences of burning oil and gas in making the planet hotter, arguing that the state “has already experienced billions of dollars of economic harm due to climate change” and “will continue to suffer billions of dollars of damage through midcentury.”
“This lawsuit is in the long and successful tradition of Minnesota attorneys general standing up to protect Minnesotans from corporate fraud and deception by Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and now Big Oil,” Ellison said in a statement emailed to the Tribune. “This is what Minnesotans expect from their attorney general. It’s the right fight to be having.”
“ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute knew for decades their industries were a major source of climate change and were causing Minnesotans long-term harm,” Ellison added.
The litigation, currently in limbo in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, is among more than 20 other similar suits from cities, counties and states nationwide targeting fossil fuel firms over climate change.
In statements obtained by the Tribune, an ExxonMobil spokesman said Ellison’s lawsuit was “a waste of millions of dollars of taxpayer money” and does nothing to reduce the risks of climate change.
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An API spokeswoman argued that over the past two decades, the fossil fuel industry “has achieved its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions.” A spokesman for Flint Hills said that the firm strongly disputes “any allegation that our company has ever been deceptive or dishonest with respect to the issue of the changing climate.”