As New Emails Show AGs Running for the Hills, #ExxonKnew Activists Pull Increasingly Desperate Stunts

New emails released today by Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) reveal what has been long suspected: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is pretty much alone in his #ExxonKnew crusade, while the other AGs have been running for the hills.  The new emails show several of the 17 AGs in the climate coalition expressing concern about being associated with these investigations, even calling Schneiderman a “wild card” and saying that being linked with his campaign makes them “nervous.”

These emails are only further evidence that the only folks left standing on #ExxonKnew are Schneiderman, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and activist Bill McKibben, who are engaging in increasingly desperate stunts to keep the campaign alive. In a piece in the Guardian, McKibben and his #ExxonKnew friends literally went off the deep end, going as far as to accuse ExxonMobil of “murdering” the world’s coral reefs and diving underwater to wrap “crime scene tape…around those bleached coral heads.” They took a picture to prove it.

coral reef

But considering what these new emails have to say it’s no surprise that they are basically begging for people to pay attention to them.

For instance, in a March 25th email, the Virginia AG’s office frets over the language of a draft release (announcing the now infamous March 29th press conference with Al Gore), which suggested that all the AGs would be collaborating on the investigations. But Michael Kelly, Director of Communications for the Virginia OAG pushes back, saying to the New York AG’s office, “At this point, we don’t know what we’re going to agree to, or really what Virginia’s laws and our authorities could allow us to do, so it makes me nervous to say we’ve ‘agreed to work together on key investigations. Is there any room to dial that back one notch?” (emphasis added)

AGs hills #1

That same day, the Iowa AG’s office was apparently wishing they hadn’t signed on to join in the event.  As Eric Tabor of the Iowa AG’s office writes to Iowa Deputy Attorney General Tam Ormiston on March 25th, “Tam — Just talked with Tom [Miller, Iowa AG]. He thinks we may be locked in on this and have to ride it through.”

AGs hills #2

Just a few days later, on March 28, Ormiston pings the Iowa AG’s Communications Director Geoff Greenwood saying, “I just returned from the evening’s activities. I will update you tomorrow but clearly Eric is himself the wild card for all.”

AGs hills #3

Later emails between the various AG offices show that the Iowa AG’s office actually opted out of volunteering for either of their working groups (Exxon/Fossil Fuel Company Investigations, or Roadblocks to Renewables).

AGs hills #4

While these AGs have tried to distance themselves, others have been a bit more direct. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in an op-ed this week that the AGs involved in this campaign have

“embarked on a wide-reaching fishing expedition that wanders far afield from what they are supposed to be doing, and trenches on the freedom of speech and the press…The First Amendment protects the people from a government that would choose which views on matters of public importance are acceptable and which are not. But these Attorneys General are doing the opposite—by punishing companies with which they disagree. Even if the subpoenas never result in legal action by the Attorneys General, the scope of the subpoenas ensures that the companies will incur substantial costs and time. This ‘viewpoint discrimination’ is one of the worst violations of the freedom of speech.”

Also this week, Columbia Law Professor Merritt B. Fox became the latest in a long line of legal experts to come out against these investigations. Fox published an op-ed in the National Law Journal with a scathing review of Schneiderman’s use of the Martin Act to investigate ExxonMobil, noting,

“The Martin Act grants the attorney general extraordinary powers to subpoena private documents without either obtaining a court order, which is required in most ordinary New York criminal proceedings, or the filing of a complaint, which is required in an ordinary civil action and is subject to court review. The Exxon subpoena is an abuse of these extraordinary powers.” (emphasis added)

That’s not to mention the numerous editorial boards that have said these investigations are a “dangerous arrogation of power,” as Bloomberg put it. The Washington Post said this sets a troubling legal precedent of pursuing “criminal penalties over those involved in a scientific debate.” The New York Post has called Schneiderman’s investigation “a purely political vendetta in a blatant abuse of office.” Financial Times said, “The legal basis for these actions seems flimsy…Beyond that, the implications of the investigations for free speech on public policy issues are alarming.”

With the AGs running as far as they can from these investigations, is it any wonder #ExxonKnew has gone off the deep end?



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