Texas attorney general Ken Paxton criticized a Democrat-led probe into ExxonMobil’s climate research Tuesday for using the legal system to influence policy measures that should be left to the realm of politics.
Paxton called the Exxon case an “unfortunate misuse of prosecutorial power” that his colleagues are aggressively fighting. He views the issue as a freedom of speech case.
“A company has a right to express itself on anything it wants to,” Paxton told reporters about claims the oil company hid from the public knowledge about global warming. It’s a matter of pushing back against government intrusion in private matters.
“[It’s] certain that we don’t want government in the practice of investigating companies for having the wrong opinion on climate change,” he said.
Attorneys general have the legal authority to gather information during investigations, Paxton added, but several AGs have used their pursuit against Exxon to influence a debate that should be left in the realm of politics.
Paxton was involved in an amicus brief filed last month opposing New York AG Eric Schneiderman’s Exxon investigation. Republican AGs from 11 states, including Oklahoma and Utah, joined the Texas Republican’s call for Schneiderman and his Massachusetts colleague, Maura Healey, to back off.
Schneiderman and Healey’s probes were based on reports from liberal-leaning media outlets InsideClimate News and Columbia University, which claim Exxon has known the risks of global warming for decades but kept such knowledge under wraps.
Susanne Rust, one of the lead researchers responsible for Columbia’s Exxon reports, has been criticized in the past for allowing her environmental activism to dictate her research on the oil company, among other issues.
Federal regulators dismissed much of Rust’s research showing that an additive called BPA found in plastic bottles can poison foods and water. The Federal Drug Administration has researched such claims and found the chemical “contained no health risk.”
Schneiderman did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment in time for the publication of this article.
Legal analysts, meanwhile, say the internal fights between AGs is unprecedented. Reid Weingarten, a lawyer at D.C.-based firm Steptoe & Johnson, for instance, told TheDCNF in April that he has not seen this kind turmoil in decades.
“The attorneys general move to gain access to Exxon’s documents caught me by surprise,” he said, adding that the amicus brief hashes out some legitimate and “non-trivial” First Amendment complaints.
“I don’t know of any” knock-out, drag down fights between AGs over political tactics and views, said Weingarten, who has practiced law for more than 40 years. “They are essentially accusing two of their own of wrong doing.”
Weingarten was referring to several clauses in the brief suggesting that attorneys general have a duty to act impartially during their investigations. The 11 AGs argue that Schneiderman and Healey’s probes undermine public confidence the two Democrats’ ability to stay nonpartisan.
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