ExxonMobil Blasts Official on Climate Change

     FORT WORTH (CN) — ExxonMobil fired back at government accusations that it covered up the issue of climate change, claiming the U.S. Virgin Islands’ attorney general targeted it in an unconstitutional “fishing” expedition.
     Irving-based ExxonMobil sued Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Earl Walker, the Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll law firm and attorney Linda Singer on Wednesday in Tarrant County Court.
     ExxonMobil says Walker issued a subpoena in March under the U.S. territory’s anti-racketeering law that is “little more than a weak pretext for an unlawful exercise” of power. It says the “chilling effect” of the subpoena’s demand for internal documents “strikes at protected speech at the core of the First Amendment.”
     “First, CICO’s [the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act’s] statute of limitations requires the occurrence of at least one predicate act of fraud within the last five years,” the 27-page complaint states. “For more than a decade, however, ExxonMobil has widely and publicly confirmed that it ‘recognize[s] that the risk of climate change and its potential impacts on society and ecosystems may prove to be significant.'”
     ExxonMobil further says it has not violated the territory’s laws because it has no physical presence in the state, and that “it owns no property, has no employees, and has conducted no business operations” on the Virgin Islands in the past five years.
     “Defendants’ dubious allegation unmasks this subpoena for what it is: a pretextual use of law enforcement power to deter ExxonMobil from participating in ongoing public deliberations about climate change and to fish through decades of ExxonMobil’s documents with the hope of finding some ammunition to enhance Attorney General Walker’s position in the policy debate,” the complaint states.
     “Attorney General Walker and designees Cohen Milstein and Singer, acting in their official capacities, are abusing the power of government to chill and deter ExxonMobil from engaging in public discussions of policy issues related to climate change.”
     ExxonMobil claims its due process rights are violated by Walker’s “outsourcing” his investigation to Cohen Milstein and Singer.
     “For more than a decade, Cohen Milstein has pursued bitterly contested and contentious litigation in an unrelated lawsuit against ExxonMobil now pending in federal court in the District of Columbia, which could result in a substantial fee award if Cohen Milstein’s client were to prevail,” the complaint states. “That litigation record and Cohen Milstein’s receipt of a $15 million contingency-fee payment from Attorney General Walker in another unrelated case raise substantial doubts about whether that firm should be permitted to serve as the ‘disinterested prosecutor’ whose impartiality is demanded by law and expected by the public.”
     ExxonMobil’s lawsuit appears to be the first of many in the fight over climate change as it cites the “Green 20” group of attorneys general who announced one week after the subpoena that they will “com[e] up with creative ways to enforce laws being flouted by the fossil fuel industry.”
     It cites New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s statement at the event that the coalition had to work “creatively” and “aggressively”
     Attended by former Vice President Al Gore, Walker said at the event that he “admitted that his investigation of ExxonMobil (or ‘Goliath,’ to use his vernacular) was aimed at changing public policy, not investigating actual violations of existing law,” the complaint states. ExxonMobil seeks declaratory judgment that the subpoena violates its rights under the state and federal constitutions.
     It is represented by corporate counsel Patrick J. Conlon in Houston, Ralph H. Duggins with Cantey Hanger, and Nina Cortell with Haynes Boone, both of Fort Worth.

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