Documents Illuminate AGs Politicized Climate Campaign Against Exxon
On Oct. 13, a federal court in Ft. Worth, Texas ruled that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is subject to legal “discovery” by ExxonMobil. This turns the tables on the Attorney General (AG), who had demanded the company’s records as part of an investigation into whether public statements about climate change and related policies rise to the level of lawbreaking. Key to this ruling was Healey’s words and deeds as part of a “climate change and energy coalition” of state Attorneys General.
The court is considering whether to enjoin (block) Healey’s subpoena previously issued for decades of Exxon’s records. After this win ExxonMobil promptly sought to also enjoin New York AG Eric Schneiderman’s similar pursuit.
The court cited public records obtained by myself and the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) from one of Healey’s coalition partners. Since then, we have obtained many more records, affirming the court’s “concern” that this coalition is pursuing a political, not a legal agenda.
These records detail a public-private partnership with environmentalist pressure group lobbyists and contingency-fee lawyers looking to surmount the failure of the climate agenda through the proper democratic process.
Since E&E Legal began extracting and publicizing these records, Schneiderman and Healey’s erstwhile AG partners have all fled. One email shows the Delaware AG leaving the coalition in response to being informed of freedom of information requests. It seems that these AGs are aware of that details of their scheming will not play well.
Healey has temporarily put her effort on hold, while Schneiderman continues to plow on, alone, abandoned by his wingmen and under pressure from three lawsuits filed by E&E Legal and some concerned New York citizens, all seeking more documentation of the affair. Despite Healey and Schneiderman refusing to let the public see the details, correspondence has flowed from other AG offices.
Such progress has been unnecessarily delayed and expensive due to widespread foot-dragging among these AGs after the coalition signed a purported “common interest agreement” earlier this year promising cooperation against public record requests. As Vermont’s Deputy AG noted in an email at the time, the signers of the agreement assume a default position of making requesters sue to get what the public owns.
Indeed, E&E Legal has so far sued Vermont’s AG twice for related public documents that it refuses to let the public see.
Delays and other hurdles aside, the Schneiderman/Healey abuses will be brought to a halt if the discovery ordered by the court affirms the political vs. legal nature of their scheme.
* The AGs’ recruiting letter admits their objectives of “ensuring that the promises made in Paris become reality,” referring to the non-binding Paris climate treaty, and to “expand the availability and age of renewable energy.”
* The court focused on an email in which Schneiderman’s office asks activist lawyer Matt Pawa to mislead a reporter about his own role in briefing the AGs before announcing their campaign at a March 29 press conference along with Al Gore. Two more parts of that email thread, which Vermont somehow forgot to release, reveal Pawa agreeing that this “makes good sense,” and Vermont’s Office of Attorney General thanking him for this willingness to stay mum.
* The court also noted the advisory role of Peter Frumhoff of the environmental activist and lobby group Union of Concerned Scientists. Frumhoff appeared in a July 31, 2015 email I and the Competitive Enterprise Institute obtained earlier this year, in a public records lawsuit against George Mason University. In it, Frumhoff informs an activist academic -- months before any AG subpoenaed records – that he was working on “state (e.g. AG) action” against “fossil fuel companies”.
* Another voice from the faculty lounge pipes up in these documents. Harvard Law School clinical instructor Shaun Goho, previously of the green group Earth Justice, organized an April 2016 briefing for the AGs and their staff on going after “Exxon specifically, and the fossil fuel industry generally.” “[W]e know that there will be people from at least…California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York.”
* Naturally, Vermont’s Deputy AG Scot Kline responded to Goho’s invitation noting that “Peter Frumhoff also mentioned it last week.” Incredibly, Vermont is refusing to release the meeting’s agenda, drafted by a Harvard instructor/activist, claiming it is privileged.
* And, damningly, before his role was exposed, Pawa himself admitted the campaign’s political nature in an interview with The Nation magazine. “‘I’ve been hearing for twelve years or more that legislation is right around the corner that’s going to solve the global-warming problem, and that litigation is too long, difficult, and arduous a path,’ said Matthew Pawa, a climate attorney. ‘Legislation is going nowhere, so litigation could potentially play an important role.’” Voila.
Much more AG correspondence and other documents we’ve obtained already affirm the AGs’ political campaign for an agenda frustrated by the proper democratic process. This supports the claim that Healey and Schneiderman have proceeded in bad faith in this crusade to silence and punish political opposition. Hopefully, now that the shoe is on the other foot and Healey must turn over (public) records, the court can put an end to these abuses. After which, it is the AGs who should be forced to answer for their actions.