Alaska joins opponents of climate change initiative

Group’s letter defends ExxonMobil on allegations of misleading the public

Alaska has joined a dozen other states in opposing efforts of several other states to explore initiatives that include investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change on their businesses.

“We think this effort by our colleagues to police the global warming debate through the power of the subpoena is a grave mistake,” said the letter, signed by former Attorney General Craig Richards, along with the attorneys general of Michigan, Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah, South Carolina, Alabama, Nevada, Nebraska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin.

“Some have indicated that ExxonMobil’s securities disclosures regarding climate change may be inadequate. We do not know the accuracy of these charges,” they said. “We do know that ExxonMobil discloses climate change and its possible implications as a business risk,” said the letter signed by Richards and others.

“If Exxon’s disclosure is deficient, what of the failure of renewable energy companies to list climate change as a risk?”

“This is not a question for the courts,” they said in the letter of June 2. “Using law enforcement authority to resolve a public policy debate undermines the trust invested in our offices and threatens free speech,” they said.

The state’s position did not sit well with Anchorage marine conservation biologist Rick Steiner, of Oasis Earth, who had requested a copy of the letter from Richards on June 22, and received it on July 6, two weeks after Richards resigned the post.

“It is outrageous that the state of Alaska, which is ‘ground zero’ for the impacts of climate change and a significant victim of climate science dishonesty by Exxon and other fossil fuel companies, is asking other state to drop this fraud investigation,” Steiner said. “The public deserves to know the extent to which Exxon and other fossil fuel companies have attempted to deceive the public, government, and investors re: climate change risks.”

“Clearly the Walker administration is now protecting Exxon, perhaps in hopes of facilitating a gas line deal,” he said.

Steiner noted that last fall the Walker administration dropped the Exxon Valdez Reopener for Unknown Injury claim filed against Exxon in 2006 for $92 million, to settle damages found after the original settlement on the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Prince William Sound. That action constituted a profound betrayal of public trust and constrained the opportunity to restore the ongoing environmental damage from the spill, he said.

But Cori Mills, an assistant attorney general in the Alaska Department of Law, said the letter Richards signed focuses on investigatory powers of the attorney general and when it is appropriate to use that investigatory power.

“It is not a letter taking a stance on ExxonMobil or the impacts of climate change,” Mills said. She noted a portion of the letter Richards and 12 other attorneys general signed that said “actions indicating that one side of the climate change debate should fear prosecution chills speech in violation of a formerly bi-partisan First Amendment consensus.” The threat of subpoena distorts the debate and impoverishes consumers and the general public who may wish to better educate themselves by hearing and evaluating both sides,” she said.

The letter came in response to an earlier announcement by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announcing a coalition to aggressively protect and build on recent progress made in the United States to combat climate change.

The coalition of attorneys general of 15 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. Virgin Islands is exploring ways they can work together on key climate change related initiatives, including investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change on their businesses.

All members of the coalition, announced at a news conference in New York on March 29, are part of a coalition of 25 states, cities and counties led by Schneiderman that intervened to defend the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan” against legal challenge.

In 2015, the state of New York reached a historic settlement with Peabody Energy, the world’s largest publicly traded coal company, concerning Peabody’s misleading financial statements and disclosures, Schneiderman said. New York is also investigating ExxonMobil for similar alleged conduct, he said.