A coalition of environmental organizations filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut contesting the legality of so-called energy sweeps contained in the state’s October 2017 budget.
At issue is the rerouting of $175 million from three funds for clean energy and energy efficiency programs, and putting the money in the state’s general fund. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in New Haven, seeks a preliminary injunction as the budget is set to take effect June 30.
John Wolfson, a partner with Feiner Wolfson in Hartford, is one of five attorneys representing the environmental organizations, which include The Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Fight The Hike. Attorneys from Holland & Knight are also assisting the plaintiffs.
Defendants are Dannel Malloy in his capacity as governor; Denise Nappier in her capacity as treasurer; and Kevin Lembo in his capacity as comptroller.
“What this will do if this budget takes effect is decimate Connecticut’s efforts to become more energy-efficient and to lower our carbon footprint,” Wolfson told the Connecticut Law Tribune Tuesday. “We think this action by the General Assembly violates the contracts clause of the Connecticut Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, and violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
Wolfson is asking Judge Janet Hall to issue a preliminary injunction.
As it stands, the budget calls for sweeps from the Green Bank for $28 million; the Energy Efficiency Fund for $127 million; and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for $20 million. All of these funds are slated to go into the state’s general fund.
Wolfson said he believes the General Assembly voted the way it did because “they were desperate for money. They did not think it through, though, that is my view.”
Ironically, Malloy, a Democrat, agrees with those suing him. In a statement late Tuesday, he said: “This should come as a surprise to no one. I have long maintained that these short-sighted sweeps would increase energy costs for consumers and businesses, and cause untold harm to our green energy economy. … The energy sweeps pushed by legislative Republicans represented a massive step backwards, and I continue to strongly oppose them.”
Pat O’Neil, speaker for House Republicans, responded to the critique. He told the Connecticut Law Tribune Tuesday, “The governor conveniently ignores the fact that the adjustments to the underlying budget that [were] approved in bipartisan fashion last Oct. 31 [were] approved May 9 by a vote of 142-8 in the House. So, I’m no sure what scorecard he is looking at.”
Lembo’s office issued a statement similar to the governor’s.
“For the sake of our environment and our state economy, Connecticut must uphold its commitments to clean energy and innovation,” the statement read.
Nappier’s office declined to comment.
Meanwhile Roger Reynolds, chief legal director of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, opposed the sweeps.
He wrote in a release: “We believe the state’s action is illegal and unconstitutional, and are demanding those funds be protected and used for their intended contractual purpose: energy efficiency and clean energy projects that reduce home energy bills, generate economic activity, and reduce air pollution.”