Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker agreed Wednesday to withdraw his climate-related subpoena of ExxonMobil, a stunning reversal that delivered a blow to the Democratic-led effort to prosecute climate change dissent.
In the Joint Stipulation of Dismissal, Mr. Walker said he would pull his March 15 subpoena of the world’s largest energy company, which had challenged the subpoena as unconstitutional.
“After conferring on this matter, the parties mutually agreed that Attorney General Walker will withdraw the subpoena and ExxonMobil will stipulate to the dismissal without prejudice of this action,” said the four-page document filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
The decision indicates a dramatic scaling back of Mr. Walker’s climate change investigation, coming just five weeks after he withdrew his subpoena of the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The retreat also comes as an ominous sign for AGs United for Clean Power, a coalition of 17 attorneys general, including Mr. Walker, formed in March to pursue the fossil fuel industry and others that challenge the catastrophic climate change narrative for “fraud.”
Mr. Walker’s subpoena had demanded that Exxon produce a decade’s worth of communications with more than 100 academics, think tanks and universities, including Arizona State University, George Mason University, Lindenwood University, the Weidenbaum Center at Washington University in St. Louis and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Democrats and environmentalists have cheered the probe of whether fossil fuel companies and skeptics have misled the public on climate change, while Republicans and First Amendment advocates have denounced the effort as an attempt to chill free speech and scientific inquiry.
Mr. Walker’s aggressive decision to issue the Exxon and CEI subpoenas put him at the forefront of the effort, but his impassioned climate change advocacy also raised doubts about his ability to conduct an impartial investigation.
“It could be David and Goliath, the Virgin Islands against a huge corporation, but we will not stop until we get to the bottom of this and make it clear to our residents, as well as the American people, that we have to do something transformational,” Mr. Walker said at the March 29 press conference. “We cannot continue to rely on fossil fuel.”
Of the roughly 100 academic institutions and free market groups listed on the Virgin Islands’ Exxon subpoena, 69 were listed on Greenpeace’s #ExxonSecrets website, and in almost the same order.
Pacific Legal Foundation litigation director James S. Burling called the overlap between the Virgin Islands subpoena and the Greenpeace list a “remarkable coincidence.”
Critics have also accused Mr. Walker of attempting to squeeze Exxon in order to score a windfall along the lines of the multibillion-dollar 2006 tobacco settlement. His office had paired with prominent plaintiffs’ lawyer Linda Singer of Cohen Milstein, the former D.C. attorney general.
In a document obtained in an open records request by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, Mr. Walker cited his recent $800 million settlement with Hess Oil, and said he was interested in identifying “other potential litigation targets” and “work[ing] together on litigation to increase our leverage.”
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who leads the coalition, has denied that the coordinated prosecutorial campaign threatens free speech, arguing that the First Amendment does not protect fraud, and comparing fossil fuel companies to the tobacco industry.
Still active are at least two subpoenas filed against Exxon, one issued by Mr. Schneiderman and another by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who has demanded documents and communications with a dozen universities and nonprofits going back 40 years.
Exxon filed a motion earlier this month to dismiss the Massachusetts subpoena, describing it as a politically motivated fishing expedition aimed at silencing Democrats’ ideological foes.
Sixteen of the 17 attorneys general in the AGs United for Clean Power coalition are Democrats, while Mr. Walker is an independent.
At the press conference, which featured former Vice President Al Gore Jr., Mr. Walker said global warming had caused the proliferation of seaweed and stronger tropical storms in the Virgin Islands, and he blasted fossil fuel companies seeking to drill in the Arctic.
“Why? How selfish can you be? Your product is destroying this earth, and your strategy is, let’s get to the polar caps first, so we can get more oil,” Mr. Walker said. “To do what? To destroy the planet further?”