Exxon Saga Over Climate Change Deepens and Called Political By Critics

by | Apr 19, 2016

Several state attorneys general have worked in tandem with advisors to investigate ExxonMobil Corp. for allegedly covering up what it had known about climate change as far as as the 1970s. Those concerted efforts are drawing criticism from free-enterprise groups, which are  calling the moves politically motivated.

About 17 attorneys general (AG) that include those from the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands have opened investigations into Exxon after two news organizations uncovered documents saying that the oil giant had long-known of the adverse effects of climate change. The AG’s role here is largely to protect the company’s investors, who are entitled to know what management knows.

But the latest twist — uncovered by the Wall Street Journal and Reuters — is that the Union of Concerned Scientist and an environmental lawyer have allegedly been giving guidance to those state officials. They all met on March 29 and Reuters was provided access to emails proving as much.

According to the report, one party acknowledges he was in attendance while the other declines to comment. Meantime, the AGs say that they routinely collaborate with interested parties and say that nothing untoward happened. Besides the actions taken to protect investors, the documents uncovered show that the AGs are considering using anti-racketeering laws; you can’t mislead the public about what was known and when it was known.

But the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which is a free market think tank and which is being subpoenaed as part of this investigation, says that the goal here is cut Exxon down to size and to reduce it to a political hack.

“The offices of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), and other politically-aligned AGs, secretly team[ing] up with anti-fossil fuel activists in their investigations against groups whose political speech challenged the global warming policy agenda,” says E&E Legal, which got the documents from a Freedom of Information Act request. E&E is reported to be linked to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“CEI will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena. It is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association …,” adds CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman, in a statement.

The subpoena requests a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information. It demands that CEI produce these materials from 20 years ago, from 1997-2007, by April 30, 2016. 

For its part, Exxon has said that its 1970s-based research produced no definitive conclusions. But today, it says that climate change is real and that everyone should be engaged in finding solutions.

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