State AGs sought to keep climate probe details secret

State AGs sought to keep climate probe details secret
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A group of liberal state attorneys general signed a pact earlier this year to keep secret their attempts to punish fossil fuel companies for climate change, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by a conservative-leaning group.

A wide-ranging “common interest agreement” between the 18 attorneys general, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), seeks to limit public disclosure of their climate investigations, including probes into Exxon Mobil Corp. that multiple states are conducting.

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The agreement said officials involved in the probes should “refuse to disclose any shared information unless required by law.”

The right-leaning Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) obtained the agreement through public-records litigation with the District of Columbia, which is a party to the pact.

It states that the attorneys general might go after other companies beside Exxon in order to fight climate change, including pursuing “investigations of representations made by companies to investors, consumers and the public regarding fossil fuels, renewable energy and climate change.” 

A spokesman for Schneiderman defended the pact, saying such agreements are routine for multistate investigative work to preserve the confidentiality of non-public information.

“The suggestion that a common interest agreement is anything other than a standard, routine, and responsible law enforcement practice is utter nonsense,” said Nick Benson.

But E&E Legal said the pact goes far beyond proper coordination among attorneys general. 

“This is far less a proper common interest agreement than a sweeping cloak of secrecy, one this ‘informal coalition’ is trying to cast over all discussions of their use of law enforcement to impose the ‘climate’ agenda. Including with outside activists and even donors,” Chris Horner, an E&E Legal fellow, said in a statement.

“It’s baffling that these AGs feel they can trample on their own states’ public records laws,” said David W. Schnare, general counsel at E&E Legal. “If they truly believe that they are engaged in anything other than a purely political campaign, they should have no problem explaining to the public what they are doing and subjecting their activities to the scrutiny their legislatures demanded.”

Benson disagreed.

“This is just another press release by fossil fuel industry allies hoping to distract, deflect, and delay a serious fraud investigation into potential corporate fraud and malfeasance,” he said. “Needless to say, it will not be effective.”