When deciding which organizations to target in his probe into climate change dissent, Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker apparently received some help from Greenpeace.
Of the roughly 100 academic institutions and free market think tanks named in Mr. Walker’s subpoena of Exxon Mobil, 69 are listed on Greenpeace’s #ExxonSecrets website — and in virtually the same order.
The obvious overlap between the Greenpeace site and the March 15 subpoena, an unredacted copy of which was obtained Tuesday by The Washington Times, was but one of the points made Wednesday by those named in the document.
“There is a remarkable coincidence between the names listed on this [Greenpeace] website and those in the [Virgin Islands attorney general’s] subpoena,” said Jim Burling, director of litigation for the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, one of the groups listed on the subpoena.
He described the subpoena as “unprofessional, irresponsible and reckless,” saying that he would be “not happy” if a law clerk came to him with a list culled from an advocacy group’s Internet page.
“This is especially the case when the allegations come from a non-neutral organization with an ax to grind,” Mr. Burling said. “But it appears that the [Virgin Islands attorney general] did exactly that — he took an unverified screed from a Greenpeace site as the basis for his subpoena, putting the listed entities into the cross-hairs of a politically driven investigation.”
Like Mr. Burling, many of those who discovered Tuesday that they had been named in the Exxon probe were quick to denounce the subpoena, describing it as an effort by the left to chill free speech and punish the climate change movement’s ideological foes.
“These subpoenas are a huge step in the direction of using the courts to silence people who hold views that differ from those of powerful government officials,” said Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for the Reason Foundation, which is named in the subpoena.
Mr. Walker is one of 17 attorneys general who announced March 29 a coalition to pursue fraud claims against companies and others disputing the climate change consensus. Sixteen of the attorneys general are Democrats, while Mr. Walker is an independent.
Four have reportedly launched probes into Exxon Mobil over claims by environmentalists that the company conspired to erode public confidence in the view that human-caused climate change looms as the planet’s greatest threat.
Mr. Walker did not return a phone call requesting comment.
William Perry Pendley, president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver, called the coalition’s campaign “shocking in the extreme.”
“With these attorneys general — they can send people to jail. They can put you in front of a grand jury,” said Mr. Pendley, whose group is also named in the subpoena. “It’s very frightening. This is an abuse of power that we haven’t seen in this country since, I don’t know, Woodrow Wilson.”
His group is listed on the #ExxonSecrets website under the heading, “ExxonMobil Climate Denial Funding 1998-2014.”
Mr. Pendley said his foundation has long acknowledged that Exxon is one of its many funders while disputing Greenpeace’s contention that the donation goes to “spread climate denial.”
But accepting funding from Exxon and disagreeing with Greenpeace on the causes and extent of climate change are not crimes, he said.
“The minute you start talking about what it is we allegedly did — people said, ‘Maybe there isn’t global warming, maybe it’s not caused by man, and maybe your solution won’t work. It will be too expensive and drive us into poverty,’” Mr. Pendley said. “That’s what we’re accused of doing.”
As disconcerting as it is to be named in a subpoena, some of those named called it a badge of honor. Among those listed individually on the document are MIT professor emeritus Richard Lindzen and University of Alabama at Huntsville climatologist John Christy.
“Being linked with distinguished scientists like Lindzen and Christy is always an honor,” said University of Delaware climatologist David R. Legates, who’s also listed.
David W. Kreutzer, senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, which is named in the subpoena, reminded the attorneys general that they are also charged with protecting freedom of speech.
“The public has entrusted state attorneys general with law enforcement powers, which include protections of our First Amendment right to engage in and encourage scientific debate,” Mr. Kreutzer said.
“If some overzealous attorneys general want to know more about Heritage analysis doubting the international climate treaty’s science, we are happy to share our data sources: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center website,” he said.
Exxon has moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that it violates the company’s rights to free speech and unreasonable searches and seizures.
Meanwhile, the attorneys general have been accused of colluding with climate change groups. Emails and other documents obtained last month by the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute show top environmentalists coaching the officials in the hours before their press conference with Vice President Al Gore in New York City.
Myron Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment, is clearly on the AG coalition’s radar: Not only was CEI served with a subpoena last month by Mr. Walker, but Mr. Ebell was named twice in the Exxon subpoena.
Said Mr. Ebell: “I would have been disappointed had I been listed only once.”