New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman was hit with a lawsuit Wednesday seeking copies of any secrecy agreements related to a multistate investigation into climate-change dissent.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute filed a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court after the Democratic prosecutor rejected the free-market think-tank’s Freedom of Information Law request for any Common Interest Agreement reached with other attorneys general or seven individuals and environmental groups.
Mr. Schneiderman’s office, which is investigating ExxonMobil, said any such records would be exempt from disclosure for at least one of four reasons, but CEI general counsel Sam Kazman said none of the reasons claimed is “legitimate under New York law.”
“What is AG Schneiderman’s office trying to hide?” Mr. Kazman asked in a statement.
Seventeen attorneys general signed earlier this year a “Climate Change Coalition Common Interest Agreement” aimed at guarding their internal communications from public disclosure, according to documents released Aug. 4 by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute.
The New York Attorney’s Office has said that such agreements are frequently used during investigations involving multiple states.
The institute filed a request May 5 for any agreements with other state prosecutors as well as three prominent environmentalists; the Pawa Law Group, or three climate advocacy organizations: the Eco-Accountability Project, the Center for International Environmental Law, and the Climate Accountability Institute.
“The public deserves to know what this AG, and the other AGs cooperating with him, agreed to when it came to targeting their political opponents, and that’s why we sought the Common Interest Agreement in the first place,” Mr. Kazman said.
A New York appeals officer denied the CEI’s appeal in a July 7 decision, saying that the records were “properly withheld as attorney work product and because they were compiled with ‘law enforcement in mind,’ ” according to the lawsuit.
The legal action comes after Mr. Schneiderman subpoenaed Exxon for documents related to whether the company misled shareholders or consumers regarding its research on the extent and impact of climate change.
Mr. Schneiderman announced in March the formation of a coalition of 17 attorneys general — 16 Democrat and one Independent — to investigate fossil-fuel companies and others that challenge the catastrophic climate-change narrative for possible “fraud.”
Officials with Exxon and the CEI have blasted the effort as a politically motivated probe aimed at chilling free speech and scientific research, while Mr. Schneiderman has argued that the First Amendment does not protect fraud.
Other documents obtained by EELI show that the attorneys general, known as AGs United for Clean Power, worked with environmental groups on using the legal system to pursue fossil-fuel companies and climate dissenters prior to the March 29 press conference.
Exxon is fighting a subpoena issued by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, while Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker dropped his subpoenas against Exxon and the CEI earlier this year.