Six months after picking a legal fight with Exxon Mobil Corp. over global warming, Democratic attorneys general now find themselves on the hot seat.
After scoring a key victory Thursday against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Exxon Mobil moved Monday to block subpoenas issued by her office and that of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman seeking documents related to the company’s climate change research.
The injunction request accused the Democrats of involvement in a “coordinated effort to silence and intimidate one side of the public policy debate on how to address climate change.”
“[I]ncreasingly political and biased statements by Schneiderman and his office — as well as revelations from third-party disclosures about secret and deliberately concealed collaboration with anti-oil and gas activists and a private law firm — have confirmed that he and Healey are incapable of impartial investigations and are attempting to silence political opponents who disagree on the appropriate policies to address climate change,” Exxon said Monday in a press release.
The filing represents a more aggressive approach for Exxon, which has fought the Massachusetts civil investigative demand while cooperating with the New York subpoena issued last year, turning over more than 1 million documents so far.
Since then, however, the oil and gas giant has gained the upper hand in court, most recently with Thursday’s ruling by a federal judge ordering Ms. Healey to submit to discovery over concerns about her “bad faith” in pursuing the investigation.
The order could allow Exxon to obtain emails, phone records and other internal communications related to her probe.
“Attorney General Healey’s actions leading up to the issuance of the [civil investigative demand] causes the Court concern and presents the Court with the question of whether Attorney General Healey issued the CID with bias or prejudgment about what the investigation of Exxon would discover,” U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade said in his order.
His ruling cited concerns about the “anticipatory nature” of her statements, including her comments at a March 29 press conference with former Vice President Al Gore and 16 other attorneys general announcing the launch of a joint prosecutorial effort called AGs United for Clean Power targeting fossil-fuel companies and their supporters.
At the press event, Ms. Healy vowed to combat climate change in her role as an elected official and said that “[f]ossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be, must be, held accountable.”
In its Monday filing in federal court in Fort Worth, Texas, Exxon said the Democrats “are incapable of serving as “disinterested prosecutors required by the Constitution” as a result of their “improper political bias.”
“Attorney General Schneiderman has publicly accused Exxon Mobil of engaging in a ‘massive securities fraud’ without any basis whatsoever, and Attorney General Healey declared, before her investigation even began, that she knew how it would end: with a finding that Exxon Mobil violated the law,” Exxon said in the amended complaint.
Ms. Healey and Mr. Schneiderman have defended their investigations as legitimate inquiries into whether Exxon committed fraud by misleading the public about its climate change research.
Jamie Henn, a spokesman for the climate change group 350.org, defended the state probes, saying Exxon has used “the same strategy as Big Tobacco: delay and deceit” and predicting the filing “will only add momentum to the broader Exxon Knew campaign.”
“Exxon’s filing leaves out the fact that they have spent millions of dollars funding misinformation campaigns, faux think tanks, and elections of climate deniers,” Mr. Henn said Monday in a statement. “They’re reacting this way because they know the states of this investigation are enormous.”
Critics of the #ExxonKnew campaign have argued that environmental groups such as 350.org are themselves the beneficiaries of funding from the Rockefeller foundations and others with investments in solar and wind energy.
A cache of emails released in April by the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute showed that the attorneys general involved in AGs United for Clean Power, also known as the Green 20, were briefed by two climate change activists — the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Peter Frumhoff and lawyer Matt Pawa — immediately before the March press conference.
Earlier this year, Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker, a member of AGs United for Clean Power, dropped his subpoenas against Exxon and the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute after he was challenged in court.
The coalition consists of 17 attorneys general — 16 Democrats and Mr. Walker, an independent — but so far only Massachusetts, New York and the Virgin Islands have acknowledged publicly conducting investigations against Exxon.
The attorneys general cited reports last year by InsideClimate News and the Columbia Journalism School accusing Exxon of trying to hide its climate change research. The company has argued that its scientists have reached no “definitive conclusions” about global warming.