On June 29, 2016, Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker abruptly withdrew his high-profile subpoena of documents belonging to energy giant ExxonMobil.
The subpoena cited ongoing investigations into climate research conducted or promoted by a host of businesses, academics, and free-market think tanks.
Walker’s subpoenas of Exxon, served in March 2016, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), served in April 2016, demanded Exxon and CEI produce e-mails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding their work on climate change and energy policy. In the CEI subpoena, Walker also requested private donor information gathered from 1997 through 2007.
Walker’s demands were part of a larger, coordinated effort unveiled at a March 29 press conference in New York, during which 16 Democratic state attorneys general and Walker, calling themselves “AGs for Clean Power,” announced they would pursue Exxon and other companies and organizations for allegedly misleading the public on the causes and consequences of climate change.
Exxon and CEI refused to comply with Walker’s subpoenas and countersued. CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman issued a statement saying, “CEI will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena. It is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association for Attorney General Walker to bring such intimidating demands against a nonprofit group.
“If Walker and his allies succeed, the real victims will be all Americans, whose access to affordable energy will be hit by one costly regulation after another, while scientific and policy debates are wiped out one subpoena at a time,” said Kazman’s statement.
Facing mounting criticism of his use of the power of subpoena to force targeted parties to hand over research and other material relating to climate change, Walker withdrew is subpoena against CEI on May 20 and against Exxon on June 29.
CEI has decided to seek court sanctions against Walker for his initial subpoena. Kazman The Washington Times, “[Walker’s] withdrawal only strengthens our claim that this subpoena was a constitutional outrage from the very beginning, violating our right to free speech and our donors’ right to confidentiality, and threatening the right of all Americans to express views that go against some party line.”
“This was an abuse of process, plain and simple, and we’re determined to see that Walker faces sanctions for an action whose illegality he refuses to recognize,” Kazman told The Washington Times.
Legal Maneuvering Continues
Even though Walker has withdrawn his subpoenas, Exxon still faces subpoenas requesting information concerning its work conducted with and its funding for climate skeptic organizations and researchers from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
“None of the investigations or the intent of the attorneys general have anything to do with climate change,” said Jay Lehr, science director at The Heartland Institute, publisher of Environment & Climate News. “It is an assault on the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech in America.
“As there is no supportable scientific evidence mankind has any significant impact on the climate, those using the threat of climate change to limit individual freedom are now attempting to silence their opponents to keep the energy policies they prefer on track,” said Lehr.
Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, one of the organizations targeted by the attorneys general, is proud of the efforts taken to fight intimidation tactics.
“This attempt to snuff out dissent and free speech should be an affront to every American,” said Rucker. “On the other hand, [the refusal of the organizations named in the subpoenas issued by Healy, Schneiderman, and Walker] to knuckle under and to call things true that we know are lies has really gotten under their skin.
“Every person and group cited by the attorneys general should be proud of the work they are doing,” Rucker said.
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.
Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker, Subpoena of Exxon’s Climate Materials, March 15, 2016: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/virgin-islands-attorney-general-subpoena-of-exxons-climate-materials