It’s not easy to make one of the world’s biggest fossil-fuel companies a sympathetic victim, but a collection of state attorneys general, led by Eric Schneiderman of New York, has managed it.
They have launched a campaign against ExxonMobil that is a transparent — nay, an explicit — attempt to punish dissent on climate change. The members of the self-described “Green 20” are demonstrating a banana-republic-worthy understanding of the law and their responsibilities. They shouldn’t be entrusted with the power of a meter maid, let alone a top position in law enforcement.
Schneiderman subpoenaed ExxonMobil last year, in what purports to be a fraud investigation. The alleged offense is having less alarmist views on global warming over the years than the green clerisy deems acceptable. How this would constitute fraud is unclear.
Investors would have found ExxonMobil alluring even if the company had maintained that the planet was in danger of becoming uninhabitable, for no other reason than oil is a miraculously efficient source of energy that we aren’t close to replacing. Consumers would have filled their cars with ExxonMobil’s product regardless, and surely only felt defrauded if the gasoline didn’t get them to work or to their kids’ soccer practice as advertised.
Usually, officials charged with law enforcement at least try to obscure their political motivations. Not the attorneys general who stood with Schneiderman at a saber-rattling press conference a few weeks ago. Dispensing with any pretense of disinterestedness, they dubbed themselves “AGs United for Clean Power.” Al Gore appeared at the presser, not as a legal expert, but as a totem of the green left. Schneiderman said that President Barack Obama’s climate agenda has been frustrated, so he and his colleagues would work “creatively” and “aggressively” to advance it.
That is certainly his right — if he resigns and becomes an official at the Sierra Club or runs for Congress. Instead, he is using the powers of his office to harass a company with opinions he finds uncongenial.
The attorney general of the Virgin Islands, of all places, has joined in, even though ExxonMobil has no assets or staff there. He has subpoenaed the company’s documents going back roughly 40 years under an anti-racketeering statute and, for good measure, also has subpoenaed the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank that once got donations from Exxon.
The conceit of this campaign is that if it weren’t for the likes of ExxonMobil, the climate debate would be settled by now. This is a view that doesn’t allow for honest disagreement about a hideously complex subject that, even if you accept the premises of the alarmists, isn’t susceptible to a ready solution.
Besides, ExxonMobil has accepted elements of the climate orthodoxy for years now. It has included statements about the potential risks of warming in official documents going back a decade, and it favors a carbon tax. Even if ExxonMobil has deliberately tilted toward the side of the climate debate most convenient for it, that’s not a crime. If having a self-serving opinion were against the law, much of the political debate in this country would shut down.
The Green 20 needn’t win a case against ExxonMobil or any other fossil-fuel company to achieve its ends. Every time that ExxonMobil has to say that it believes in global warming and no longer funds climate skeptics, it is a moral victory for the AGs. The mere example of ExxonMobil being forced to expend resources defending itself is a warning to everyone else. And if a settlement can be extorted out of the company and used to fund the green left, all the better.
All of this is a blatant abuse of power, which is why anyone who values the First Amendment and the rule of law has to side with the massive multinational corporation over AGs who are a disgrace to their offices.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com.