ABILENE – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and 10 other state attorneys general are backing ExxonMobil Corp.’s effort to squash a state civil administrative subpoena for more than 40 years of the oil giant’s internal documents, which some believe could show the corporation misled its investors regarding evidence of climate change.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office recently issued a state civil administrative subpoena to investigate the company’s alleged violations of consumer protection laws through ExxonMobil’s marketing and sale of fossil fuel-derived products and securities. The documents, according to Healey’s office, could show ExxonMobil knew about the connection between fossil fuels and climate change as far back as 1977 and instead worked to discredit climate science.
ExxonMobil is suing the Massachusetts attorney general over her investigation, asking the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the subpoena. In a complaint filed by the corporation Sept. 7 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, ExxonMobil argues that Healey’s investigation violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect free speech and prohibit unreasonable searches. The complaint also alleges that the investigation violates Massachusetts’ four-year statute of limitation and asserts the company does not conduct business in the state.
Eleven attorneys general, including Paxton, are standing with ExxonMobil. In an amicus brief filed Sept. 8, the attorneys general explain that although chief legal officers often use their authority to determine whether unlawful conduct has occurred, the “power does not include the right to engage in unrestrained, investigative excursions to promulgate a social ideology, or chill the express of points of view, in international policy debates.”
In a statement posted to the Texas attorney general’s website, Paxton’s office claims Healey is “attempting to shut down a viewpoint on an issue of scientific debate.” Joining Texas’ attorney general in the amicus brief are principal legal officers from Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah and Nevada.
The 11-member group is facing off against another group of attorneys general who are working to bring about heavier climate change initiatives. Healey is among a group of state attorneys general calling themselves “AGs United for Clean Power,” which has vowed to defend climate change initiatives made by President Barack Obama and to encourage the next president to push for even more aggressive climate control action.
The coalition, according to Paxton’s office, is using its official authority to go after one side of a policy debate regarding climate change.
“The Constitution was written to protect citizens from government witch hunts that are nothing more than an attempt to suppress speech on an issue of public importance, just because a government official happens to disagree with that particular viewpoint,” Paxton stated in the news release.
Healey isn’t the first attorney general to subpoena ExxonMobil. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker filed a March 15 subpoena of the energy corporation. Walker, however, withdrew his subpoena Sept. 7.
According to the four-page joint stipulation of dismissal document filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, parties mutually agreed that Walker would withdraw his subpoena and ExxonMobil will stipulate to the dismissal without prejudice of the action.