Schneiderman Resignation Deals Blow To #ExxonKnew Campaign

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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The environmentalist campaign against ExxonMobil lost its most prolific soldier when New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned amid allegations of abuse.

Schneiderman, who led the New York attorney general’s office since 2011, played a leading role in an ongoing investigation into whether oil and gas corporation ExxonMobil knowingly misled investors about climate change science. He joined other Democratic attorneys general across the country in pursing various climate change-related lawsuits against companies, establishing himself as an environmentalist leader. However, after the disgraced attorney was forced to resign Tuesday, these lawsuits are at risk of taking a back seat.

Several women who were romantically involved with the New York Democrat in past years have come forward with similar stories about his behavior, recounting instances where he would slap them hard in the face, choke them during intercourse, call them “whores” and force them to consume large amounts of alcohol. Despite positioning himself as a supporter of the “Me Too” movement, Schneiderman’s former girlfriends claim he was anything but respectful to them behind closed doors.

When he wasn’t ironically reviewing the investigation into film producer Harvey Weinstein, Schneiderman was heavily involved in litigation against ExxonMobil. The liberal lawyer has accused the oil company knew it was contributing to climate change but purposefully withheld this information from the public. This environmentalist campaign against them is known popularly as “#ExxonKnew.” Schneiderman took a victory lap in March, when a federal judge ruled against a lawsuit brought by Exxon that accused him and the Massachusetts’ attorney general of waging a politically motivated campaign and violating their right to free speech.

Schneiderman was a climate activists in and out of the courtroom, giving statements throughout the years about the subject. During an address to the York City Bar Association in 2014, he said he did not believe “climate deniers” deserve a place in public life in America, echoing statements made by billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer.

New York voters will ultimately pick a replacement in the upcoming midterm elections. In the meantime, Solicitor General Barbara Underwood is taking over Schneiderman’s position as interim attorney general until the state legislature appoints an interim successor.

“Unless a newly elected AG has a very different philosophical alignment, we would not expect a change in course as we see little indication that political backing for these cases is likely to flag,” said Christine Tezak, managing director of ClearView Energy, in a Tuesday statement.

Underwood will be taking the reigns of the Exxon lawsuit. While she could theoretically choose to drop the case, there has been no indication she will do so. As solicitor general, Underwood has been a stalwart on climate activism herself, signing off on other lawsuits that worked to reduce carbon emissions.

Even if Underwood or her successor chooses to walk away, there are other liberal attorneys general who are still anxious to attack Exxon and boast their environmental chops.

“New York has and will continue to be a leader in our fight for forward-leaning values, opportunity and the rule of law,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra through a spokesperson on Tuesday. Becerra has worked alongside Schneiderman on a number of lawsuits against the Trump administration’s energy agenda. California’s top attorney isn’t alone.

“The American people deserve answers from executives at Exxon about what they knew about the impact of burning fossil fuels on our climate, when they knew it, and what they told their investors and the world. Our state’s highest court has ordered the company to turn over documents. We look forward to continuing our critical investigation,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a Tuesday statement to Climate Liability News.

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