- - Tuesday, August 16, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Democrats’ grand plan for this election year doesn’t seem to include free speech. The group that drafted the Democratic Party platform recently called for the Justice Department to prosecute energy companies that don’t see eye-to-eye with Democrats on climate change.

Is that really a good idea? After all, if the government has the right to punish those who merely question climate change, then it also has the power to punish climate alarmists who falsely predicted the world would come to an end by now due to rising temperatures.

Put simply, the government could block free speech for anyone with an opinion the government deemed incorrect. Democrats should end their crusade before they start feeling the brunt of their own logic.

Unfortunately, using laws to silence climate dissenters didn’t start with the Democratic National Committee platform. It’s part of a growing trend.

Twenty state attorneys general (AG) nationwide have joined forces to investigate — and eventually prosecute — oil companies. The AGs allege that to maintain high profits, Big Oil has purposely misled investors and the public about the danger of climate changes.

Right- and libertarian-leaning policy centers — such as the Heartland Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute — are also facing tough scrutiny. My employer, the National Center for Public Policy Research, has been targeted on the floor of the Senate. According to the green crusaders, we were all in cahoots with oil companies in their attempts to obscure the dangers of climate change.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch recently acknowledged that the Department of Justice is contemplating using a federal law originally created to fight organized crime to prosecute climate skeptics. In the Obama administration’s distorted reality, the analogy isn’t much of a stretch.

Interestingly, the state AGs unveiled their crusade at a press conference in March with former vice president and climate Svengali Al Gore looking on. The irony was probably lost on all in attendance.

For years now, Mr. Gore, who predicted that the North Pole would be ice-free by 2013, has cried wolf about the coming environmental apocalypse — while lining his own pockets with millions by promoting dubious green investments.

It raises the question: What’s to stop a newly formed league of climate-agnostic attorneys general, emboldened by the strategies of their green colleagues, from prosecuting those like Mr. Gore, who have become rich off of fantastical doomsday predictions?

Mr. Gore wouldn’t be the only one going down in this scenario. Recall that back in 2008, ABC News predicted that because of climate change, New York City would be submerged by 2015. The network’s crystal ball also predicted that the cost of gas and milk would soar while the earth’s population shrank.

Around the same time, the United Nations warned that there were only eight years left to head off a “dangerous” rise in global temperatures. In fact, the head of the organization’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in 2007 if the world did not take immediate action, by 2012 it would be “too late.”

Two years before that, the U.N. also warned that global warming was about to usher in a huge period of population disruption, leading to a global refuge crisis. By 2010, the world was warned, there would be some 50 million climate refugees.

These are just a smattering of inaccurate predictions coming from environmentalists over the decades. Some were based on flawed models. Some were propaganda to influence public opinion and drive public policy. Others just wanted to get rich off government subsidies for green technology.

Those motives are no better than the ones said to be driving oil companies. Were the tables to suddenly turn and global warming zealots to be held accountable for misleading the public, many of the prosecutors would be the prosecuted.

At its heart, investigations like the one the state AGs are now pursuing aren’t about protecting the public. They are about using the government to harass political opponents.

How else to explain the fact that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his counterpart in California, Kamala Harris, both liberal Democrats, include among Big Oil’s supposed crimes donations to respected right-leaning organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute?

The investigation into these oil companies and think tanks is a flagrant attempt to bypass the Constitution and stifle political speech. It should be opposed by friends of the First Amendment no matter their stance on climate change. It’s shameful that a major political party has so little regard for free speech.

• Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and heads its Risk Analysis Division.

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