ExxonMobil sues Massachusetts Attorney General

By Andy May

ExxonMobil is suing Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, accusing them of unlawfully exercising their powers in a politically motivated investigation of the oil company. The attorneys general have accused the company of misleading investors and the public by withholding internal research about the impact of global warming. A review of publicly available documents from ExxonMobil, both internal and external, did not uncover evidence of any suppressed or withheld ExxonMobil climate research. It appears the company published everything they knew about the subject. They did a lot of research into climate change, but they uncovered no definitive evidence of an impending man-made climate catastrophe and said so publicly. Some ExxonMobil researchers believed that carbon dioxide might be a problem sometime in the future, but they uncovered no definitive evidence of a problem. And, in any case, the concerned researchers presented their concerns to the company management and in public documents, often in peer-reviewed papers. ExxonMobil also had some of their research staff work on every IPCC report.

The attorneys general investigations were carefully coordinated with lawyers and environmental activists in a meeting March 29, 2016. Breakfast and lunch were provided. An attempt was made to keep the meeting secret. Matt Pawa is an environmentalist lawyer who has sued ExxonMobil over climate change and other issues before. An email has him instructing Lemuel Srolovic (chief of the New York Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau) not to confirm his attendance of the March 29, 2016 meeting. Another email shows that there was an attempt to get a signed common interest agreement that restricted sharing information from the meeting. These emails show that there was cooperation between the attorneys general and environmental organizations to “go after” ExxonMobil. The Wall Street Journal has reported that there was an earlier meeting, in January, that included Kenny Bruno (environmental activist with the New Venture Fund) and Bill McKibben (environmental activist, founder of 350.org). The earlier meeting was specifically to plan a legal attack against ExxonMobil, presumably investor Kenny Bruno would profit from this attack.

As a result, ExxonMobil is suing the attorneys general, accusing them of unlawfully exercising their powers to harass the company. The company has asked Dallas federal judge James “Ed” Kinkeade to declare the wide-ranging subpoenas from the attorneys general unlawful. ExxonMobil has already turned over more than one million pages of documents to the New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman.

Federal Judge James “Ed” Kinkeade has ordered Massachusetts attorney general Maura Heally to come to Texas December 13 to answer questions under oath about her office’s climate change-related probe into ExxonMobil. Ms. Healey has strongly objected (court document here) to the summons.

ExxonMobil accuses the attorneys general of coordinating with lobbyists, lawyers and environmentalists:

“to silence and intimidate one side of the public policy debate on how to address climate change.”

One has to wonder how any company or person can be investigated for withholding information on the effects of man-made climate change when a substantial minority of climate scientists aren’t even sure man-made climate change is significant or dangerous. For the views of a few famous climate scientists that do not believe climate change is dangerous see here.

ExxonMobil has previously taken court action to block a subpoena from the U.S. Virgin Islands attorney general and the attorney general backed off of that case. They successfully argued that the subpoena was an unwarranted fishing expedition. The filing states:

“The chilling effect of this inquiry, which discriminates based on viewpoint to target one side of an ongoing policy debate, strikes at protected speech at the core of the First Amendment.”

That is certainly true. This sort of “environmental shakedown” of lawful, productive American companies for profit needs to be stopped. One of the best ways to do this is tit-for-tat. If they go after the company, the company should go after them. We applaud ExxonMobil’s suits and hope they continue the fight. Make this as costly and as embarrassing as possible for New York and Massachusetts!