Fossil Fuel Industry-Funded Attorneys General Try to Block Exxon Climate Fraud Probe
By Elliott Negin
You could call it the battle of the attorneys general: One side representing the public interest, exactly what attorneys general are supposed to do; the other side representing the special interests, exactly what they are not supposed to do.
In late March, 17 attorneys general held a press conference to announce they will defend the new federal rule curbing power plant carbon emissions and investigate energy companies that may have misled investors and the public about climate risks. They call themselves AGs United for Clean Power and so far attorneys general from California, Massachusetts, New York and the Virgin Islands have launched investigations of ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, for fraud.
In response, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange decided to push back. On May 16, they intervened on behalf of ExxonMobil to quash one of the investigations of the Irving, Texas-based company, accusing AGs United for Clean Power of trying to stifle the "debate" over climate science.
Paxton and Strange filed their intervention plea in a case that ExxonMobil brought against Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker in a Fort Worth district court. The company maintains Walker's subpoena demanding internal climate change-related records violates its right to speak freely and be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Paxton called Walker's investigation a "fishing expedition of the worst kind," representing "an effort to punish Exxon for daring to hold an opinion on climate change that differs from that of radical environmentalists." Echoing Paxton, Strange charged the "fundamental right of freedom of speech is under assault by an attorney general pursuing an agenda against a business that doesn't share his views on the environment."
Fishing expedition? Free speech?
The facts say otherwise.
Like the other three investigations, Walker's probe followed the release of documents by the Union of Concerned Scientists, InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealing that Exxon scientists conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and warned top management of the potentially catastrophic risks posed by global warming. Regardless, the company publicly emphasized uncertainty about climate science for years and, to a certain extent, still does. Furthermore, it has been financing a network of advocacy groups and think tanks to spread disinformation about climate science and the viability of renewable energy for the last two decades.
Based on that preliminary evidence, there is strong justification for Walker and the other AGs to investigate further.
As for the free speech argument, Walker and the other AGs have subpoenaed internal company documents to determine whether ExxonMobil's statements to investors regarding climate risks contradicted what it was hearing from its own scientists. If so, ExxonMobil could be guilty of fraud and fraud is not protected by the First Amendment.
Surely Paxton and Strange, the chief legal officers in their states, are aware of that. And, according to Robert Percival, director of the Environmental Law Program at University of Maryland's law school, their "political grandstanding" will likely have no impact on the case.
So why are they making such a fuss?
Both Paxton and Strange are from energy-producing states and, no surprise, they receive generous campaign funding from electric utilities and fossil fuel industries. That might help explain a few things.
Paxton was first elected Texas' attorney general in 2014. Before that, he served in the Texas House of Representatives for 10 years and the Texas Senate for two. During the 12 years he spent at the state house, he received only $69,000 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies. But when he ran for attorney general, they contributed $929,000, nearly twice as much as any other sector. The energy companies that chipped in for his run for attorney general included Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Koch Industries, Marathon Oil and Phillips 66. ExxonMobil sat out Paxton's 2014 campaign, but between December 2006 and October 2012, the company's political action committee gave him $3,250, according to state ethics disclosure filings. Not much, but the rest of the industry has more than made up for it.
Strange became Alabama's attorney general in 2010. In 2014, mining, oil and gas and electric companies and their trade associations collectively donated $177,850 to his reelection campaign, placing them among his top contributors. His benefactors that year included the American Coal Association, American Gas Association and Koch Industries, but his biggest energy industry supporter was Alabama Power, which gave him a whopping $72,500.
Alabama Power is a subsidiary of Southern Company, one of the nation's largest electric utilities. Three of the company's coal-fired power plants are the biggest carbon emitters in the country. Two are located near Atlanta and the third, near Birmingham, is operated by Alabama Power. Southern Company's support for the climate science denier network, meanwhile, goes back more than 20 years. And just last year it was revealed that the company had been secretly funding dubious research conducted by climate contrarian aerospace engineer Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon since 2005. Soon's studies concluded that solar activity is the main cause of global warming and carbon emissions have little or no impact.
Given the support Strange gets from Southern Company, Koch Industries and other interested parties, perhaps it's no coincidence that the day after the AGs for Clean Power held their press conference, he issued a joint press release with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt insisting there is a lively debate over the reality of climate change. "Reasonable minds can disagree about the science behind global warming and disagree they do," they said. The debate "should not be silenced with threats of criminal prosecution by those who believe that their position is the only correct one and that all dissenting voices must therefore be intimidated and coerced into silence."
Leaving aside the fact that reasonable minds at this point do not disagree about climate science, the AGs for Clean Power investigations are not about debating the science of global warming. They are about something quite different: when scientists told energy companies about the risks of climate change and what company executives did in response.
Paxton, Strange and Pruitt Have an AG Coalition, Too
All but one of the 17 attorneys general behind AGs for Clean Power belong to the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA). But Paxton, Strange and Pruitt have their own coalition, the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). Both associations get their share of corporate support, but the coal, oil and gas and electric utility industries have placed most of their bets on RAGA.
DAGA gets relatively limited support from the energy industry. Since January 2015, for example, it has received $80,000 from that sector, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Its top energy industry donor was the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil and gas industry's primary trade association, which donated $25,000.
By comparison, RAGA pulled in more than $800,000 from coal, oil and gas and utilities over the same time frame, according to Center for Responsive Politics data. The top RAGA donor was coal giant Murray Energy, which chipped in $250,000. Two years ago, Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray unsuccessfully sued the Environmental Protection Agency over the Clean Power Plan, charging that the agency has been "lying" about the reality of global warming and that the Earth is actually cooling. Koch Industries, meanwhile, donated $125,400. The coal, oil and gas conglomerate's co-owner, Charles Koch, recently told ABC News that "the evidence is overwhelming" that the climate is "changing in a mild and manageable way." Other major energy industry RAGA funders included API and ExxonMobil, which each donated $50,000 and Southern Company, which contributed $35,000.
The industry's support for RAGA has paid off big time—for both sides. According to a December 2014 New York Times exposé on the secret links between the energy industry and attorneys general, AGs "in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million" in 2014. Those AGs include Paxton, Strange and Pruitt.
The Times found that Pruitt and other energy industry-funded AGs have invited industry lobbyists to draft letters for them to send to federal agencies, promoted energy industry-written bills in their state legislatures and joined energy companies as plaintiffs in court challenges. Strange, Pruitt and other RAGA attorneys general even went so far as to file an amicus brief in support of Bob Murray's challenge to the Clean Power Plan.
Legal experts told the Times that the scope of the AGs' collaboration with the energy industry is "unprecedented" and "threatens the integrity of the office."
"When you use a public office, pretty shamelessly, to vouch for a private party with substantial financial interest without the disclosure of the true authorship, that is a dangerous practice," said David B. Frohnmayer, a Republican who served as Oregon's attorney general for a decade. Terry Goddard, a Democrat who served two terms as Arizona's attorney general, agreed. "It is a magnificent and noble institution, the office of attorney general, as it is truly the lawyer for the people. That independence is clearly at risk here."
Goddard got that right. By definition, attorneys general are the "people's lawyer" and their duties include investigating—and suing—companies that flout state laws. That is exactly what AGs in California, Massachusetts, New York and the Virgin Islands are doing. By intervening on behalf of ExxonMobil, Paxton and Strange are trying to stop Claude Walker from doing his job. If they were truly independent and took the responsibility of their office seriously, they would open ExxonMobil investigations of their own.
Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Unless otherwise noted, all campaign contribution data came from the National Institute on Money in State Politics website.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
JasonOndreicka / iStock / Getty Images
Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
- Climate Crisis: What We Can Learn From Indigenous Traditions ... ›
- 10 Organizations Honoring Native People on Thanksgiving ... ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.