Group says letter shows politics drove AGs’ Exxon probe

Source: Hannah Hess, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 11, 2016

A free-market group said communication among state attorneys general shows political collusion in their probe of fossil energy companies’ alleged lies about climate science.

At issue is a March 7 letter from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell (D) inviting other left-leaning AGs to an event “to highlight the importance of climate change to the citizens of our states, our work defending the Clean Power Plan … and the formation of an Attorneys General climate change and energy coalition.”

Obtained by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute under state open-records laws, the letter urges AGs “who share this mission to renew our commitment to a coalition to take concerted action to protect our citizens from public safety, health and environmental harms created by climate change.”

In response to the invitation, attorneys general from Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and staff from AG offices in California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington joined former Vice President Al Gore, Schneiderman and Sorrell for a press conference in Manhattan in late March. The coalition announced a multistate effort, including further investigations into whether fossil fuel companies lied to investors and the public about the impacts of climate change (Greenwire, March 29).

E&E Legal, a free-market group with no ties to E&E Publishing, cited the letter as proof the probe is politically motivated.

“This letter makes inescapable the fact that the AGs’ goal was to defend and extend Obama’s environmental agenda. That is a political cause, which the AGs seek to extend by improper means, circumventing the proper, democratic political process,” said Craig Richardson, E&E Legal executive director.

Similarly, Chris Horner, the group’s senior legal fellow, said the letter shows the ongoing investigations targeting the fossil fuel industry and nonprofit think tanks are merely “a political campaign to silence critics of the administration.”

“It is unprecedented to have the top state law enforcement officers waging a political war on behalf of the president at the cost of the First Amendment protections they are charged with upholding,” Horner said.

E&E Legal said it intends to pursue all public records, fighting the common interest agreement that they allege is an attempt by the attorneys general to shield coordination with climate activists and donors (Greenwire, Aug. 4).

Although green legal groups and the AGs say the agreement is routine, E&E Legal disagrees. It cites a June decision by New York’s highest court reaffirming that the state’s long-standing rule on common interest agreements “applies only where pending or reasonably anticipated litigation is involved.”

E&E Legal has joined the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic in a lawsuit seeking Schneiderman’s correspondence with Tom Steyer, California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D), and six other public and private parties relating to his office’s role in the fraud probe (Greenwire, Aug. 1).

A hearing has been set for Sept. 1 in New York City.

Meanwhile in Texas federal court, state AGs are fighting attempts by Exxon Mobil Corp. to get an injunction against requests for documents related to the company’s alleged attempts to cover up its climate research and mislead the public.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) yesterday filed a motion to dismiss a countersuit by Exxon that challenges the validity of her investigation. The company has asked the Massachusetts court to stay adjudication of its claims until the Texas court decides the case.

“This Court should reject Exxon’s transparent attempt at forum-shopping and dismiss this case,” Healey’s attorneys said.

Voters may not support prosecution

A Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey found most voters believe the scientific debate about global warming is not over and oppose government action against those who question it.

The poll found 69 percent of likely voters don’t support the government investigating and prosecuting scientists and others who are skeptical of global warming. Just 15 percent favor such investigations, while just as many, 16 percent, are undecided.

The Aug. 3-4 survey of 1,000 voters had a 3-point error margin.

The results are nearly identical to those measured in November 2015, when news first broke of the New York AG’s investigation of Exxon. That survey found 68 percent of those polled supported government action against those who question climate science.