An environmental legal analyst said Thursday it is a good thing U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker decided to withdraw his subpoena against ExxonMobil, because he was in “way over his head.”
“The Virgin Islands attorney general is really not capable of taking on Exxon and this quick retreat confirms that,” Pat Parenteau, an environmental law professor at Vermont Law School, told reporters.
He said taking on Exxon in such a risky way “was a distraction,” and one likely to result in the attorney general getting “pounded” by the oil company.
Other environmental attorneys agreed with Parenteau. Robert Collings, an energy and environmental attorney with the law firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, suggested Walker’s move could have jeopardized the coalition of attorneys general investigating Exxon.
“He [Walker] gets out of a case which could have threatened the game plan of the attorney general coalition that he belongs to,” Collings said. “If one federal court looks at the Virgin Islands’ subpoena and decides that it is faulty, then you could have a case created that establishes at least an influence on other state litigation, if not a precedent, that would control their ability to bring their own actions and subpoenas in the future.”
Walker also subpoenaed free market group Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) April 7, which anti-fossil fuel activists say was in league with Exxon in hiding research on so-called man-made global warming. Walker withdrew his subpoena against CEI as well. The subpoena demanded a decade’s worth of the group’s work on global warming and energy.
“The clear conclusion to draw following [Walker’s] withdrawal of the ExxonMobil subpoena is that these subpoenas were a baseless fishing expedition from the beginning,” CEI president Kent Lassman said in a press statement.
Exxon had been wrestling with a subpoena by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office as well, until she agreed in June to temporarily suspend enforcing it.
Healey “agreed not to move to enforce the [Civil Investigative Demand] during the pendency of this litigation and the litigation commenced by ExxonMobil on June 15, 2016… other than by filing a cross-motion to compel as described below.” This means her office will not enforce the subpoena until all legal appeals are filed.
A report published by anti-fossil media outlet InsideClimate News (ICN) Thursday implied the dual withdrawals were a type of Mexican standoff, wherein Exxon, CEI, and the attorneys general stood down so as to avoid mutual pain. ICN was named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in April for its reporting on Exxon’s global warming research.
“Had Walker continued with his subpoena against Exxon and Exxon continued its lawsuit against the attorney general,” ICN noted, it could have undermined the coalition of 17 attorneys currently pillorying Exxon.
ICN went on to quote at length former U.S. Department of Justice attorney Sharon Eubanks, who prosecuted the racketeering case against the tobacco industry in the 1980s and 1990s, in an effort to lend credence to the possibility the two sides came out clean as whistle. Eubanks argued the two sides – Exxon and Walker – might have agreed to conditions, or an “uneasy truce,” which remains confidential.
CEI’s general counsel, Sam Kazman, blanched at the idea that Walker can just drop his subpoena with few ramifications, telling The Daily Caller News Foundation that, “The withdrawal only strengthens our support for sanctions against Walker and the other attorneys general.”
“We feel AGs should not be allowed to pile unconstitutional stuff on a group and simply walk away, scot-free,” Kazman said. He added the withdrawal was definitely a boon for the free market group, and possibly even Exxon, depending on the negotiations between the two sides.
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