Massachusetts full-court press vs ExxonMobil on climate change

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BOSTON — A powerhouse trio of liberal Massachusetts women are taking aim at ExxonMobil, with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren firing off a Washington Post op-ed as the latest in a string of offensive maneuvers against the oil giant.

Warren, who penned the op-ed jointly with U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), came out strongly in defense of two Democratic state attorneys general who have recently taken heat from conservatives for criminally investigating oil companies who have questioned the science behind claims of global warming.  The AGs say they are trying to determine whether Exxon/Mobil “knowingly misled” the public regarding climate science.

One of the AGs leading the multi-state effort targeting Big Oil is Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.Earlier this year, Healey and 18 other Democratic attorneys general formed AG’s United for Clean Power in order to promote legal action against the fossil fuel industry and other “climate change deniers.” In June, Healey subpoenaed ExxonMobil, specifically ordering the company to fork over more than 40 years’ worth of documents.  Her office also issued a subpoena for documents and records from conservative think tanks such as the Washington-based Heritage Foundation and Boston’s Beacon Hill Institute that have produced policy papers challenging the science behind various environmental policies.

Republicans have accused the Democratic AGs of prosecutorial misconduct and of using the power of law enforcement to squelch debate in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Some members of Congress have charged that the AGs have entered a secret pact to go after a legal corporation for producing a legal product, albeit one that they do not like — oil.  In order to prove the conspiracy, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has demanded copies of all correspondence sent back and forth between the offices of Healey and other AGs and climate change activist groups.

Smith noted that he and other lawmakers are “concerned that these efforts to silence speech are based on political theater rather than legal or scientific arguments” and that the investigation “run(s) counter to an attorney general’s duty to serve ‘as the guardian of the legal rights of the citizens’ and to ‘assert, protect and defend the rights of the people.’”

Warren in her op-ed offered up a rebuttal to Smith’s description.

“Take a breath to absorb that: State attorneys general are investigating whether a fraud has been committed — something state AGs do every day,” Warren wrote. “Sometimes AGs uncover fraud and sometimes they don’t, but if the evidence warrants it, the question of fraud will be resolved in open court, with all of the evidence on public display.

“But instead of applauding the AGs for doing their jobs, this particular investigation against this particular oil company has brought down the wrath of congressional Republicans — and a swift effort to shut down the investigation before any evidence becomes public.”

Warren accuses several GOP lawmakers of making a “swift effort to shut down the investigation before any evidence becomes public.”

On Thursday Lexington resident and Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein entered the mix, vowing that, if elected, she will get to the bottom of the alleged global warming shenanigans:

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Attorney General continues to press her case.  The fact ExxonMobil does not base any of its business inside Massachusetts does not appear to be hampering Healey’s efforts to investigate the company under Massachusetts consumer protection laws. The company is fighting Healey via an injunction filed in Texas Court, while Healey is working to try to have the case moved to Massachusetts.

In May Warren, Whitehouse and several other Democratic members of Congress compared ExxonMobil’s tactics to those employed by the tobacco industry, claiming the opposition “reprises the tobacco lawsuit’s own early history of efforts from Congress to discourage or interfere with that lawsuit in order to protect the tobacco industry.”

Kevin Ewing, an attorney with a Houston law firm which has previously represented the interests of energy companies, responded in June by pointing out a key detail.

“Tobacco was shown to cause specific harm to specific individuals,” he added. “Not so with climate change, where we cannot yet discern the factual connection between a company’s conduct and individual harm, even though we can observe the global effects of climate change at large.”