By Bonner R. Cohen
E-mails uncovered by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute (EELI) show several state attorneys general (AGs) who have threatened possible prosecution of climate skeptics had collaborated in previous months with anti-fossil-fuel lobbyists to shape their legal and public relations strategies.
At a March 29 press conference hosted by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore participating, a coalition of 16 Democratic attorneys general and Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker, an independent, announced they were actively considering legal action against companies, organizations, and individuals who have challenged the claim humans have caused climate change.
Just two hours prior to the press conference, the attorneys general received a secret briefing from Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and Matt Pawa, an environmental attorney for the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI). The briefing, in part, offered talking points to the AGs.
E-mails obtained under Vermont’s public records law by EELI reveal collusion between anti-fossil-fuel activists and the group of state AGs was well underway before the New York press event. The e-mails also show attorneys in Schneiderman’s office told the activist groups working with the state AGs to conceal their relationship to the state AGs’ investigations.
‘Deceive the Press’
“These e-mails show Schneiderman’s office suggested their outside green-activist allies deceive the press,” said David Schnare, EELI’s general counsel. “Meanwhile, AGs in his coalition have subpoenaed at least one policy group’s correspondence with the media.”
The documents obtained by EELI show at least one AG suggested using a common interest agreement to claw back records already circulated and hide future coordination efforts.
“We call on these AGs to immediately halt their investigation and lay out to the public the full extent of this collusion, producing all records or information provided [to] them in briefings and other work with the outside activists, including those they are trying to keep secret through a common interest agreement,” Schnare said.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), an outspoken critic of the human-induced climate change hypothesis, was subpoenaed by Walker shortly short after it had released press statements critical of the AGs’ campaign to silence global warming dissenters. Walker’s subpoena demanded 10 years of CEI’s climate-change-related documents, from 1997 to 2007.
Walker, Schneiderman, and other state AGs have also launched investigations into energy giant Exxon Mobil. They allege the company may have committed “fraud” by questioning the science behind manmade climate change.
According to EELI, Pawa and Frumhoff have been pushing for an investigation into what they call “climate deniers” for a number of years—at least since the “Establishing Accountability for Climate Change Denial” activist workshop was held in June 2012. The event was co-hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Climate Accountability Institute at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
At the workshop, activists developed strategies for state AGs to use to pursue legal claims against scientists, companies, and groups that have denied humans are causing catastrophic climate change or that have critiqued or challenged state and federal efforts to restrict the use of fossil fuels.
The Washington Times reports of the roughly 100 academic institutions and free-market think tanks named in Walker’s subpoena of Exxon, “69 are listed on Greenpeace’s #ExxonSecrets website—and in virtually the same order.”
Some say the overlap suggests further collusion between state AGs and environmental groups.
E-mails showing the involvement of Frumhoff in the possible collusion come at an awkward time for UCS; the organization is actively working to weaken public-records laws, including exempting the correspondence of certain public officials from taxpayer scrutiny (see related story).
Climate Debate ‘Should Be Encouraged’
Not all state AGs are on board with the Schneiderman-led investigation of climate skeptics.
“The scientific and political debate [concerning climate change] is healthy, and it should be encouraged,” said a March 30 joint statement by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Luther Strange, attorney general of Alabama. “It should not be silenced by threats of criminal prosecution by those who believe that their position is the only correct one and that all dissenting voices should therefore be intimidated and coerced into silence.”
Other analysts see this type of potential collusion as part of a growing trend to attack sound science and the First Amendment.
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. This article was reprinted with permission from heartland.org, a product of The Heartland Institute (https://www.heartland.org/news-opinion/news/green-activists-and-state-ags-collude-against-climate-dissenters).
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