Exxon fights climate probe from Massachusetts AG

Exxon fights climate probe from Massachusetts AG
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Exxon Mobil Corp. is asking a federal court to toss out a demand from the Massachusetts attorney general stemming from her probe into the company’s history on climate change.

Exxon contends in a Wednesday filing that the investigation from Attorney General Maura Healey (D) is an attempt to use “law enforcement power” to deter the company from “participating in ongoing public deliberations about climate change” and alleges she is “abusing the power of government to silence a speaker she disfavors.”

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It’s asking the Fort Worth, Texas, court to throw out the demand for documents — similar to a subpoena — and declare that it violates Exxon’s rights, including freedom of speech and protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The filing is the latest in an ongoing fight between Exxon and environmental groups, allied with some Democratic attorneys general and members of Congress, over alleged fraud by the company.

The greens contend, based mainly on a series of reports last year from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times, that Exxon knew as early as the 1970s that fossil fuels cause climate change but openly denied it, to the detriment of the public and investors.

Healey, along with the attorneys general of New York, California and the United States Virgin Islands, are investigating the allegations and have demanded certain documents from Exxon.

Healey’s request was first made public as part of the court filing Wednesday, though it was sent in April.

The broad request demands four decades worth of records “concerning Exxon’s development, planning, implementation, review, and analysis of research efforts to study [carbon dioxide] emissions … and the effects of these emissions on the climate.”

It also seeks specific studies produced by Exxon, and its communications with major associations and think tanks involved in climate skepticism, such as the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Healey announced her investigation at a March meeting of liberal attorneys general who agreed to team up on climate-related issues. 

“We can all see today the troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew, what industry folks knew, and what the company and industry chose to share with investors and with the American public,” she said at the time.

Exxon has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying its scientific research and public statements have always been on the leading edge of the climate debate.

The company said in its Wednesday filing that the request is “an impermissible viewpoint-based restriction on speech, and it burdens ExxonMobil’s political speech.”

It’s also not timely, the company said, because the state law Healey is using has a statute of limitations of four years and Exxon has backed the scientific consensus on climate change for the past decade.

A spokeswoman for Healey said her office is reviewing the motion.

Exxon has also publicly fought the Virgin Islands’ subpoena, as has the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which received one as well. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has asked for court sanctions against Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker.

— This story was updated at 2:15 p.m.