Attorneys General Organize to Find out What #ExxonKnew
March 31, 2016
Most underreported story of the year, and probably the millenium, continues to be #ExxonKnew.
A group of Attorneys General are seeking to balance the scales and take on the Energy leviathan. They are playing catch up.
The fossil fuel industry has for some time been behind an “unprecedented, secretive alliance” of Attorneys General devoted to undermining environmental protections, in particular those related to climate change. See below.
More than a dozen state attorneys general gathered in New York earlier this week, ostensibly to announce their support for President Obama’s efforts to combat global warming and to underscore their intention to collaborate on investigations involving climate-related issues.
But the undercurrent of Tuesday’s public announcement, which included former vice president and climate activist Al Gore taking a turn at the podium, was anything but subtle: New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman and his counterparts from around the country vowed to “collectively, collaboratively and aggressively” investigate whether fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil have misled shareholders and the public about what they knew — and when — about the risks of climate change.
“We have heard the scientists; we know what’s happening to the planet,” Schneiderman said. “But there is confusion, sowed by those with an interest in profiting from the confusion and creating misperceptions in the eyes of the American public.”
Schneiderman began investigating ExxonMobil last fall, subpoenaing documents from the company in the wake of reporting by the Los Angeles Times and the online publication Inside Climate News that showed Exxon’s in-house researchers were concerned about climate change from fossil-fuel emissions decades ago, and yet for a long time, the company publicly raised doubts about the science. Schneiderman has leeway to take on such a sweeping authority to undertake such an investigation under both consumer protection laws and New York’s Martin Act, a securities law that protects investors.
On Tuesday, at least two more attorneys general — Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Claude Walker of the Virgin Islands — said they had opened their own inquiries into Exxon’s actions. California attorney general’s office is undertaking its own investigation.
Suzanne McCarron, ExxonMobil’s vice president of public and government affairs, said in a statement that the accusations against the company are “politically motivated and based on discredited reporting funded by activist organizations” and that ExxonMobil is “actively assessing all legal options.”
She added that the allegations are “preposterous” and “based on the false premise that ExxonMobil reached definitive conclusions about anthropogenic climate change before the world’s experts and before the science itself had matured, and then withheld it from the broader scientific community.” McCarron said the company openly shared findings in peer-reviewed publications and actively contributed to the work of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The email exchange from October 2011, obtained through an open-records request, offers a hint of the unprecedented, secretive alliance that Mr. Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general have formed with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year.
They share a common philosophy about the reach of the federal government, but the companies also have billions of dollars at stake. And the collaboration is likely to grow: For the first time in modern American history, Republicans in January will control a majority — 27 — of attorneys general’s offices.
The Times reported previously how individual attorneys general have shut down investigations, changed policies or agreed to more corporate-friendly settlement terms after intervention by lobbyists and lawyers, many of whom are also campaign benefactors.
But the attorneys general are also working collectively. Democrats for more than a decade have teamed up with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club to use the court system to impose stricter regulation. But never before have attorneys general joined on this scale with corporate interests to challenge Washington and file lawsuits in federal court.
Out of public view, corporate representatives and attorneys general are coordinating legal strategy and other efforts to fight federal regulations, according to a review of thousands of emails and court documents and dozens of interviews.
“When you use a public office, pretty shamelessly, to vouch for a private party with substantial financial interest without the disclosure of the true authorship, that is a dangerous practice,” said David B. Frohnmayer, a Republican who served a decade as attorney general in Oregon. “The puppeteer behind the stage is pulling strings, and you can’t see. I don’t like that. And when it is exposed, it makes you feel used.”
For Mr. Pruitt, the benefits have been clear. Lobbyists and company officials have been notably solicitous, helping him raise his profile as president for two years of the Republican Attorneys General Association, a post he used to help start what he and allies called the Rule of Law campaign, which was intended to push back against Washington.