State AG's assault on climate skeptics far worse than we thought

A previously unknown agreement signed by the 15 Democratic state attorneys' general that represents a united assault on climate change skeptics shows just how broadly the coalition will interpret the law to attack and harass those who disagree with them.

The agreement also makes clear that the investigation by prosecutors will remain secret - a star chamber if there ever was one.


The "Climate Change Coalition Common Interest Agreement" was signed by state attorneys general in May, two months after they held a press conference to say they would go after Exxon, the world's largest publicly-traded oil and gas company, and possibly other companies.

The signed agreement has not been made public until now, and Reuters reviewed a copy of it on Thursday.

It provides considerably more detail about the prosecutors' legal strategy than the general outline provided at their announcement in March, which was headlined by former Vice President Al Gore.

In a nod to the politically charged nature of the inquiry, which quickly spilled over into Congress and corporate shareholders meetings, the pact says signatories of the agreement should keep discussions private and "refuse to disclose any shared information unless required by law."

Besides Exxon, the agreement says other entities could be targeted if states felt they were delaying action to fight climate change.

The pact says the states may take legal action to "defend Federal greenhouse gas emissions limits" and open investigations of "possible illegal conduct to limit or delay the implementation and deployment of renewable energy technology."

It also ponders "investigations of representations made by companies to investors, consumers and the public regarding fossil fuels, renewable energy and climate change."

After numerous filings under sunshine laws, a copy of the agreement was obtained by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, a free-market think tank. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, whose website says it opposes U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, had also sought the documents.

"This is far less a proper common interest agreement than a sweeping cloak of secrecy," said Chris Horner, a lawyer who represents the Energy & Environment Legal Institute.

The attorneys general, as previously reported, received guidance from well-known climate scientists and environmental lawyers before announcing the Exxon probe.

Critics have called this a sign of meddling by special interests, though prosecutors' offices have made clear climate change is a top concern of voters.

New York state's attorney's general office said confidentiality agreements are used often.

"Entering into a common interest agreement is routine practice during a multistate investigation. These agreements preserve the confidentiality of non-public information shared among state law enforcement officials," the office told Reuters.

Note specifically that the coalition will go after companies and organizations for opposing federal environmental regulations. The clear inference is that opposing EPA regulations on climate change is illegal in and of itself and that the state AG's can "defend" the regulations and "open investigations" into entities that seek to delay emission limits. There is nothing about punishing "fraud" in seeking to delay emisssion limits. It's all about a political disagreement.

How is this constitutional? It directly interferes with individuals and company's rights to "redress grievances" against the government - a First Amendment protection. There is nothing in the agreement that allows the state AG's to act only if there is illegal activity going on. But it allows the AGs to open harassing investigations for no other reason than regulations would be too onerous for some companies to comply with. 

The state AG's have ignored congressional subpoenas and now we know why. They are creating a star chamber to punish political dissent and reach deep into the pockets of huge corporations to create a climate change slush fund. 

I really hope Exxon will hold out and refuse to settle with these vultures.


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