report for environmental groups and environmental donors all over the country to read.In the summer of 2012, a group of environmental activists gathered in La Jolla, Calif. to plan out a new campaign strategy against the nation’s energy producers. The two-day conference was led by the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI), based in Snowmass, Colo., and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) of Cambridge, Mass. Later, the minutes of the La Jolla conference were turned into a 36-page
After a string of major defeats – including the collapse of cap-and-trade climate legislation in 2010 – the activists admitted “we currently lack a compelling public narrative about climate change,” according to the report. Two members of the CAI advisory board – environmental lawyer Matt Pawa and UCS staffer Peter Frumhoff – suggested lawsuits could deliver the political outcome they needed.
Their idea was a hit. There was “nearly unanimous agreement on the importance of legal actions, both in wresting potentially useful internal documents from the fossil fuel industry and, more broadly, in maintaining pressure on the industry that could eventually lead to its support for legislative and regulatory responses to global warming,” according to the report.
Through such lawsuits, environmental activists could allege wrongdoing and build “a narrative that creates public outrage.” In other words, environmentalists had found a way to bully their opponents and mislead the public into supporting economically harmful taxes, laws, regulations and subsidies in the name of fighting climate change.
New York AG launches climate investigation, takes fire
Four years later, Pawa, Frumhoff and the other attendees of the La Jolla conference have got the legal action they wanted, care of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) and a handful of Democratic attorneys general from California, Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands. So far, they have targeted a major energy company and a free-market think tank with demands to turn over all kinds of records tied to their positions on climate policy. They have even won the endorsement of former vice-president-turned-climate activist Al Gore, who headlined a press conference for the attorneys general last month.
But the longer this so-called investigation runs, the bigger the backlash gets. Right out of the gate, Brooklyn Law School professor James Fanto called the probe “completely politically motivated,” and editorial boards from opposite ends of the political spectrum panned the move as anti-free speech.
Bloomberg View called the investigation “preposterous” and a “dangerous arrogation of power.” National Review called it an assault on the First Amendment and a “flat-out campaign aimed at punishing a corporation for having a policy disagreement with Democrats.” The same publication also questioned the decision to target ExxonMobil, which “has long funded climate research that has produced findings in line with the general scientific consensus on the issue” and supports a carbon tax.
More recently, five Republican state attorneys general have rebuked the effort. Their criticism was best summarized by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R): “It is one thing to use the legal system to pursue public policy outcomes; but it is quite another to use prosecutorial weapons to intimidate critics, silence free speech, or chill the robust exchange of ideas.”
University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harland Reynolds says Schneiderman and the other Democratic attorneys general are “betraying their oaths of office.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg columnist Megan McArdle has mocked the group for failing to articulate a factual basis for their actions during their press conference with Gore. “They threw the word ‘fraud’ around a lot,” McArdle wrote. “But the more they talked about it, the more it became clear that what they meant by ‘fraud’ was ‘advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.’”