If you didn’t know better, you might think the State of Texas favors oil companies.
On Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed for the second time in two weeks on the side of an oil company — this time Exxon, which is challenging a subpoena in the Virgin Islands’ Attorney General’s investigation over what the oil and gas giant knew about climate change, and when.
Paxton called the Virgin Islands’ investigation “ridiculous” in a statement Monday.
“This case is about abusing the power of the subpoena to force Exxon to turn over many decades’ worth of records, so an attorney general with an agenda can pore over them in hopes of finding something incriminating,” Paxton said. “It’s a fishing expedition of the worst kind, and represents an effort to punish Exxon for daring to hold an opinion on climate change that differs from that of radical environmentalists.”
Paxton was joined by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange in filing the notice of intervention.
Environmentalists criticized the states’ involvement in the investigation, which they said should be able to continue.
“It’s another disturbing example of how Exxon has used its power to influence, or capture, certain states,” Bill Snape, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, told ThinkProgress.
In April, Exxon filed a motion to resist the territory’s subpoena. It filed the action in Texas, which is also where TransCanada filed its lawsuit to overthrow the State Department’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline permit application. Last week, Paxton joined with five other state attorneys general to support that company’s courtroom efforts.
But despite Paxton’s insistence that Exxon is free to have its own “opinion” — which it is — the Virgin Islands investigation into Exxon, as well as investigations from the New York and California attorneys general, are looking at whether Exxon defrauded its investors and potentially violated corruption statutes.
New York’s Attorney General Is Investigating ExxonClimate by CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt Rourke The multiple calls from lawmakers and environmentalists to investigate…thinkprogress.orgAs Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker wrote in April, “According to multiple reports, ExxonMobil publicly maintained that the causes and impacts of climate change could not be predicted, while privately ExxonMobil knew — and acted upon — its own research showing that climate change was both real and could be modeled. If true, these statements could violate Virgin Island laws barring consumer and securities fraud, as well as CICO [the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act].”
Investigations by the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimateNews recently revealed that Exxon scientists knew that greenhouse gases caused climate change as early as the 1970s. The states’ investigations center around whether Exxon misled the public on this issue. The investigations have been compared to the 1990s investigation of Big Tobacco over its research into the health effects of cigarettes.
“It seems more and more likely that both New York and the Virgin Islands will have no problem establishing that Exxon spread misinformation, and so it will be interesting to see how deep the investigation is allowed to go and what they turn up,” Pat Gallagher, an attorney with the Sierra Club, told ThinkProgress.
“There may be some limitations put on the subpoena, but I doubt it would be quashed outright,” he said.
Instead, this effort from Texas and Alabama is just part of a bigger political theater, Gallagher said. In recent years, both progressive and conservative state attorneys general have become more involved in cases that have become politicized, including in several over efforts by the EPA to regulate pollution.
“[Exxon, Texas, and Alabama] are playing defense by going on the offense and trying to claim this is just political theater, when actually it has to do with pretty serious misconduct tied to the most serious global issue, climate disruption,” Gallagher said.