Can ExxonMobil Be Found Liable for Misleading the Public on Climate Change?
Bloomberg reports on the subpoena CEI recieved from Attorney General Claude Walker for their research on climate change.
In March the Virgin Islands issued a sprawling, loosely worded subpoena that demanded the company’s correspondence with scores of conservative and free-market organizations, including FreedomWorks, the Heartland Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. In a separate subpoena, it sought documents directly from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning group that’s cast doubt on mainstream climate science and formerly received financial support from Exxon. This focus on communication opened the door for Exxon’s New York law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, to seek to kill the islands’ subpoenas on First Amendment grounds. Paul Weiss filed court papers in Texas on April 13 condemning the Virgin Islands’ attempt “to deter ExxonMobil from participating in ongoing public deliberations about climate change.” (The more precisely tailored New York subpoena didn’t explicitly name nonprofits with which Exxon may have communicated.)
Finally, Exxon had its counterpunch: that hostile outsiders had attacked the company’s free-speech rights. There’s a reason Theodore Wells, the Paul Weiss partner who’s led Exxon’s legal defense (and has represented such clients as Philip Morris), is known as one of the craftiest people in his profession. However unlikely the image of Exxon as victim, that’s how Wells decided to characterize his client—and it worked. On April 22, the Washington Post carried two opinion pieces on the topic: a column by George Will headlined “Scientific Silencers on the Left Are Trying to Shut Down Climate Skepticism” and one by Sam Kazman and Kent Lassman, respectively general counsel and president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, condemning “the environmental campaign that punishes free speech.” In the following days, dozens of similar broadsides were issued from the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Fox News, the Heritage Foundation, and many others.
Once again, politicians followed. In mid-May, the House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology began investigating what it called “a coordinated attempt to deprive companies, nonprofit organizations, and scientists of their First Amendment rights.” The only company the panel mentioned by name was Exxon. Committee staff members and Exxon’s McCarron say that despite the company’s widespread lobbying of Congress, it didn’t ask the panel or its chairman, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), to begin the probe. First elected in 1986, Smith has received almost $685,000 in career campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. By early July, the Virgin Islands had turned tail and withdrawn its subpoenas of Exxon and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Trying to put the best spin on his humiliating retreat, Virgin Islands AG Walker said via e-mail that extricating itself from the subpoena imbroglio will allow his office to “use our limited resources to address the many other issues that face the Virgin Islands and its residents.” Wells didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Read the full article at Bloomberg.