New documents unearthed by a free market legal institute suggest a coalition of Democratic state attorneys general are using a “common interest agreement” to keep documents about their investigations into global warming skeptics from going public.
“We have confirmed that the Democratic AGs are citing a Common Interest Agreement to avoid releasing crucial information to the public, as they continue their abuse of power,” David Schnare, general counsel for the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (EELI), said in a statement.
For weeks, EELI has been working to find out if Democratic prosecutors, led by New York AG Eric Schneiderman, had signed onto a common interest agreement that was revealed through a previous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. EELI now says it has evidence AGs and activists have entered into an agreement to block FOIA requests regarding investigations into ExxonMobil’s alleged campaign to mislead the public on global warming. Those investigations have ensnared conservative think tanks, policy experts and scientists with alleged ties to Exxon.
“In short, these activist AGs are trying to write themselves out from freedom of information laws their legislatures have written them into,” said Chris Horner, an EELI senior fellow.
“They are hiding behavior that seems to be precisely the sort of abuse lawmakers sought to expose to sunlight when deciding to cover their state’s’ chief law enforcement officers under FOIA laws, particularly their use of nearly limitless powers to chill opposition and damage political opponents,” Horner said.
So far, four AGs — three Democrats and one Independent — have launched investigations into Exxon’s disclosure of global warming risks to investors and funding of skeptic groups. Schneiderman was the first AG to launch an Exxon probe, citing reporting by InsideClimate News and Columbia University.
Schneiderman held an event in March where other AGs announced they would be going after Exxon. The 20 AG offices involved in the event, dubbed the “Green 20,” used the conference to condemn fossil fuel companies allegedly trying to cover-up global warming. The AGs also promised to protect federal climate rules from legal attacks.
Emails EELI’s action have uncovered showed environmental activists working behind the scenes at the event, briefing state AGs on global warming litigation strategies. Schneiderman’s office even tried to cover up activist involvement by telling them not to admit they attended the event.
EELI’s email review also showed AGs were working on a “common interest agreement” to, among other things, withhold certain records regarding their probes.
EELI says it’s now found evidence AGs have signed the agreement and are using it to block FOIA requests. Illinois’ AG recently sent a FOIA letter to EELI citing “a common interest agreement (Agreement) was entered into by the Office of the Illinois Attorney General and the other affected stakeholders related to a number of the withheld records.”
EELI also recovered an April 12th email from Rhode Island Special Assistant Attorney General Gregory Schultz saying he would sign onto the agreement.
Common interest agreements are commonly used to keep certain records secret for a time, but EELI argues the agreement between AGs and green groups is unusual because it shows “these AGs and their green-group colleagues with inherently disparate interests have entered not a legitimate [Common Interest Agreement], but a pact of secrecy, covering broad topics, not specific matters, simply to avoid scrutiny of otherwise public records,” according to the group’s release.
EELI’s release comes amid news that three of the four investigations into Exxon have stalled or fallen apart. Exxon has won legal victories against AGs of Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin islands, both of which subpoenaed the company and supposedly-affiliated groups.
California AG Kamala Harris’s office opened an investigation into Exxon, but the company has yet to receive a subpoena from Harris. She’s not likely to push the investigation much further since she’s running for U.S. Senate.
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