By Messina, John, 1940-, Photographer (NARA record: 8464458) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
December 5, 2016; Boston Globe

It has been alleged that ExxonMobil’s own decades-old research confirmed the role of fossil fuels in climate change, that Exxon warned its top executives of these disturbing findings in 1977, and that Exxon then took steps to protect its company’s operations from the effects of climate change while doing nothing to help the world acknowledge let alone find solutions to the looming crisis.

In March 2016, 16 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands launched coordinated investigations into whether Exxon misled investors and whether such actions constituted consumer or securities fraud. Members of Congress pushed back to protect Exxon from this unprecedented coalition. As NPQ reported, “The Committee not only sought to gather information about the state investigations but also looked into the efforts of environmental organizations to advocate for state action.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman led the effort. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey issued this civil investigative demand to Exxon concerning potential violations of MA consumer protection statutes.

Exxon is now suing the Massachusetts AG. Exxon’s complaint, filed in federal district court in Fort Worth, Texas, argues that Healey’s investigation violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect free speech and prohibit unreasonable searches; that the investigation violates Massachusetts’s four-year statute of limitations; and that the company does not do business in the state.

“We have no choice but to defend ourselves against politically motivated investigations that are biased, in bad faith, and without legal merit,” said Alan T. Jeffers, media relations manager for ExxonMobil Corp. “We did not start this, but we will see it through and will vigorously defend ourselves against false allegations and mischaracterizations of our climate research and investor communications.”

In addition to Exxon now launching its own investigation, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, issued subpoenas to Schneiderman, Healey, and environmental groups and more recently even the SEC in defense of Exxon. The Boston Globe reports that “Massachusetts’s all-Democratic congressional delegation has countered with a letter to Smith, calling his efforts an abuse of power.” Last week, a federal judge in Texas ruled that both the New York and Massachusetts AGs must submit to questioning by ExxonMobil attorneys about why they are investigating the company.

Elsewhere, we learn that Exxon’s chairman and CEO, Rex Tillerson, is a candidate to serve as President-elect Trump’s Secretary of State. As the Trump administration gradually takes shape, environmental activists and organizations are preparing for a fight to protect the gains the Obama administration helped them garner over the past eight years. Trump’s election campaign rhetoric and his actions since winning the election appear to threaten a series of tenuous international agreements and embolden interests opposed to fossil fuel regulation.

Mr. Trump’s meeting with Al Gore yesterday notwithstanding, Trump selected Myron Ebell, a climate-change skeptic, to lead his Environmental Protection Agency transition team. Ebell is a likely candidate to become the next head of the EPA. Ebell’s research at the Competitive Research Institute challenges what he calls “global warming alarmism,” according to his biography on CEI’s website. Other candidates to head the EPA are also prominent and ardent opponents of climate-change policies, including Kathleen Hartnett White who called the Paris Agreement a “tragedy.”

A leading candidate for the Trump administration’s interior secretary is Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, the first governor to refuse to enact President Obama’s climate-change regulations.

Exxon’s aggressive legal and political strategies and the incoming Trump administration will not go unchallenged. Healey, a Democrat, became Massachusetts’s attorney general in 2014 but she sees her role distinctively under the Trump Administration.

After an ugly presidential election campaign and a rise in complaints about bullying and discriminatory harassment, she launched a hate-crimes hot line that logged more than 400 calls in a week. In a fund-raising e-mail last week, Healey pledged to fight President-elect Donald Trump on any of his “unconstitutional campaign promises.”

“If he overreaches, I intend to be there as the People’s Lawyer to stop him—with my voice, with the law and with you at my side,” Healey wrote in the e-mail from her campaign committee.

—James Schaffer