For Virgin Islands Climate Subpoena, A Not-So-Happy Birthday

Approximately one year ago, on April 7, 2016, CEI received a memorable, hand-delivered envelope from U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker. It wasn’t a note congratulating Kent Lassman on his very new (two days old, to be precise) position as CEI’s president. No, it was a subpoena, issued under the Virgin Islands’ “baby RICO” statute, demanding a full decade’s worth of CEI documents on its energy and climate policy work. Those documents contained not just our internal deliberations, but also information about our supporters’ identities.

All in all, we really would have preferred that note for Kent.

Walker’s subpoena was part of a campaign that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had launched only a week before at a Manhattan press conference, showcased by Al Gore and attended by about 16 other state AGs or their representatives. The campaign’s stated purpose was to investigate how the fossil fuel industry and global warming skeptics had alleged deceived the public about the risks of climate change. Schneiderman’s coalition called itself “AGs United for Clean Power”; a better name would have been “AGs United for More Power.”

That April 7th was a pretty hectic day for us, and so were the days and weeks afterward. With the help of our outside counsel, Andrew Grossman and David Rivkin of BakerHostetler, we made our position clear within hours—the subpoena was a flagrant violation of our First Amendment rights, as well as those of our supporters, and we had no intention of complying. In mid-May we moved to dismiss the subpoena in D.C. Superior Court. Four days later, Walker officially terminated his D.C. subpoena. In late June we had a court hearing on our motion for sanctions against Walker and his local counsel. Within two days, Walker dropped his underlying Virgin Islands subpoena as well, adding to our claim that he’d been acting in bad faith. And so at this point both the D.C. and Virgin Islands subpoenas have been terminated, and we await a ruling on our motions for attorney fees and sanctions. More details on this chronology can be found here.

Looking back, there are several highlights, especially for you fans of irony:

  • Soon after getting subpoenaed, we learned that, only months before, Walker had reached an $800 million settlement with Hess Oil for shutting down a refinery in the Virgin Islands. Yet now he was going after us and ExxonMobil not because Exxon had stopped making petroleum products, but because it was continuing to produce them.
  • At a business law conference last spring, Schneiderman attacked the claim that he was violating our free speech rights; we were, in his memorable phrase, “First Amendment opportunists.” By that logic, a homeowner with the police at his door who asks to see a warrant is a Fourth Amendment opportunist. A property owner who asks for compensation after his land has been seized by the government is a Fifth Amendment opportunist. And so on down the line of the Bill of Rights.
  • In opposing our court motions, Walker accused us of using his subpoena “as an opportunity to engage in an ongoing publicity stunt.” We were publicly questioning its legality, so I guess that makes us unlawful-subpoena opportunists.

While Walker’s subpoenas are gone, Scheiderman’s campaign is still alive, but barely. Only he and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey seem to be actively involved. The press release for the  kick-off press conference in March 2016 included the headline “Unprecedented Coalition Vows To Defend Climate Change Progress Made Under President Obama And To Push The Next President For Even More Aggressive Action.” President Trump must be a disappointment to them, especially in light of last week’s environmental executive orders.

By the way, those orders were issued, almost to the day, one year after that press conference. That’s executive-level irony for you.

To learn more about CEI’s fight to protect the First Amendment visit