Oklahoma officials, others dispute California climate claim

By Ken Miller and Kathleen Ronayne, Associated Press

Officials from Oklahoma and more than a dozen other states have sent two letters to California's insurance commissioner, asking that he stop pressing insurance companies to publicly disclose fossil fuel investments and divest from the coal industry, saying it only confuses consumers and unnecessarily brings politics into the insurance market.

In this May 4, 2017 file photo, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter speaks during an interview in his office in Oklahoma City. Hunter, and Oklahoma's insurance commissioner have sent separate letters signed by several state attorneys general, insurance commissioners and one governor asking California's insurance commissioner to stop asking insurance companies to publicly disclose their investments in fossil fuels and to divest from the coal industry. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Officials from Oklahoma and more than a dozen other states have sent two letters to California's insurance commissioner, asking that he stop pressing insurance companies to publicly disclose fossil fuel investments and divest from the coal industry, saying it only confuses consumers and unnecessarily brings politics into the insurance market.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has said the investments may be risky due to a move from fossil fuels to renewable energy because of climate change.

"I think it's an absurd and political response from attorneys general and one governor of oil, gas and coal states," Jones said Wednesday. "In reading their letter, they're quite explicit that the concern is about their oil, gas and coal industry.

"Many of them are climate change deniers." Jones told The Associated Pres on Wednesday, in response to a letter from Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, signed by 11 other attorneys general and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.

Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman for Jones, said his response also applies to a letter from Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak and signed by insurance commissioners in five other states.

Hunter said he does not deny climate change and that Jones' assertion about financial risk is wrong, threatens energy and insurance companies, thousands of jobs in those industries, and violates the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause.

"He was trying to advance environmental policy at the expense of the companies he is tasked to regulate," Hunter said.

"The whole idea is wrong-headed," according to Hunter, whose letter dated Monday says renewable energy companies may be a greater financial risk.

"Nearly a hundred solar companies have failed or gone bankrupt in recent years," Hunter wrote, mentioning Solyndra, SunEdison, SolarWorld and Suniva.

Doak's letter, dated Tuesday, said Jones' concern over the potential risk of investments in coal is, at best, "mere speculation" and that coal will continue as a reliable and affordable energy source.

Hunter said he's considering filing a lawsuit if Jones doesn't put a stop to his request. Jones said that threat will not stop him.

"For those climate denying politicians ... I will happily defend my obligation as California's Insurance Commissioner to make sure insurers are addressing climate change related risks and to protect California consumers," Jones said in a statement.

Jones' directive was announced in January 2016. But Hunter said he learned of it earlier this month from Doak, and that the two have discussed the issue since then before writing the letters.

Doak spokeswoman Kelly Dexter said she did not know when Doak learned of Jones' directive and that Doak is out of the country and unavailable for comment.

Doak's letter is signed by the insurance commissioners in Alabama, Montana, Kentucky, North Dakota and Indiana.

Hunter's letter is signed by Kentucky Gov. Bevin, attorneys general in Alabama, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Utah, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Hunter spokeswoman Terri Watkins said Hunter consulted with energy and insurance officials about the impact of Jones' request, but that the letter is his own.

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