Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has intervened in a Virgin Islands investigation into whether ExxonMobil misled the public and its shareholders about climate science, attempting to block the territory’s inquiries into potential violations of consumer protection laws.
In a press release, Paxton called the U.S. Virgin Islands attorney general’s investigation “ridiculous” and a “fishing expedition of the worst kind,” describing it as “an effort to punish Exxon for daring to hold an opinion on climate change that differs from that of radical environmentalists.”
In March, Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker issued a subpoena demanding that ExxonMobil provide records relating to its internal communications on climate change. ExxonMobil responded by filing a lawsuit asking a Tarrant County district court to quash Walker’s subpoena, saying it violated the company’s right to speak freely.
Paxton’s brief in support of ExxonMobil, filed Monday along with Alabama’s attorney general, asks a judge to put an end to Walker’s investigation.
Paxton’s filing comes about a week before the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Dallas. There, shareholders are expected to vote on seven climate-related resolutions, which include requesting that the company adopt policies to help limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and appointing board members with environmental expertise.
Environmental groups say ExxonMobil played an active role in obfuscating climate science in order to protect its profits.
A series of reports published in 2015 by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed that ExxonMobil began conducting internal climate change research in the late 1970s, and knew carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels to be a primary cause of global warming.
Publicly, however, the company claimed the link between climate change and fossil fuels was uncertain and backed climate science denial groups from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s.
In addition to the Virgin Islands inquiries, the news reports have led to investigations in New York, California and Massachusetts, where officials are looking into whether ExxonMobil failed to fulfill its fiduciary obligations to shareholders by not fully disclosing the extent to which climate change could affect the company’s bottom line.
In his brief, Paxton said the Virgin Islands investigation “seems to be driven by ideology, not law,” and is a violation of ExxonMobil’s First Amendment rights.
Paxton said that that if the investigation proceeds, the case “could effectively set a precedent that anyone can be criminally investigated because of their stated opinions.”
Lindsay Meiman, a spokeswoman for the environmental nonprofit 350.org, told the Observer by email that it “was no surprise” that Paxton wanted to “let Exxon off the hook for their corporate crimes.”
“But Texans are feeling the impacts of climate change more acutely than ever, they know we need to hold Exxon accountable, and that’s exactly the case many will make at the company’s shareholder meeting next week,” she said.
Lawmakers, including California House representatives Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier, have also called on the Department of Justice to investigate ExxonMobil. In response, the department passed the request to the FBI to “determine whether an investigation is warranted.”