By Katie Brown. (h/t to Matt Dempsey)
In yet another stunning blow to the #ExxonKnew campaign, a federal judge today issued a discovery order against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to determine whether “bias or prejudgment” influenced her decision to initiate a “bad faith”investigation into ExxonMobil, just days after she appeared before news cameras with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Al Gore and other Democratic state attorneys general in New York.
As the Washington Post reported this afternoon, this “new discovery order could open the door for an intrusive examination of Maura Healey ’s internal phone records, other communications and depositions,” shedding light on the extent to which Healey, Schneiderman and others have conspired with outside activists, plaintiff attorneys and partisan political interests to carry out their failed #ExxonKnew campaign.
We know from FOIA’d emails that the AGs in Schneiderman’s climate coalition tried to hide behind a Common Interest Agreement, which would keep their correspondence on the Exxon investigations secret. But sunlight is the best disinfectant, they say, and that is exactly what taxpayers will get a result of today’s action. Here are the key passages from the federal court order related to Healey’s “bias” and “bad faith”:
“Attorney General Healey’s actions leading up to the issuance of the CID causes the Court concern and presents the Court with the question of whether Attorney General Healey issued the CID with bias or prejudgment about what the investigation of Exxon would discover.” (p. 3-4)
“The Court finds the allegations about Attorney General Healey and the anticipatory nature of Attorney General Healey’s remarks about the outcome of the Exxon investigation to be concerning to this Court. The foregoing allegations about Attorney General Healey, if true, may constitute bad faith in issuing the CID which would precludeYounger abstention. Attorney General Healey’s comments and actions before she issued the CID require the Court to request further information so that it can make a more thoughtful determination about whether this lawsuit should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.” (p. 5-6)
Last month, during the original hearing on this case, lawyers representing Healey’s office claimed that their subpoena was not political. But Judge Kinkeade wasn’t buying it, considering that the AGs announced their investigations at a press conference with Al Gore. As Judge Kinkeade said at the time, “like Al Gore wasn’t frickin’ involved!”
In his order, Judge Kinkeade highlights both the news conference and the fact that Healey and the other AGs in Schneiderman’s climate coalition attended a “closed door meeting” ahead of the conference, where they were briefed by top players in the #ExxonKnew campaign: Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists and activist lawyer Matt Pawa, who has made a handsome living suing ExxonMobil. From the order:
“Prior to the issuance of the CID, Attorney General Healey and several other attorneys general participated in the AGs United for Clean Power Press Conference on March 29, 2016 in New York, New York. Notably, the morning before the AGs United for Clean Power Press Conference, Attorney General Healey and other attorneys general allegedly attended a closed door meeting. At the meeting, Attorney General Healey and the other attorneys general listened to presentations from a global warming activist and an environmental attorney that has a well-known global warming litigation practice. Both presenters allegedly discussed the importance of taking action in the fight against climate change and engaging in global warming litigation.
One of the presenters, Matthew Pawa of Pawa Law Group, P.C., has allegedly previously sued Exxon for being a cause of global warming. After the closed door meeting, Pawa emailed the New York Attorney General’s office to ask how he should respond if asked by a Wall Street Journal reporter whether he attended the meeting with the attorneys general. The New York Attorney General’s office responded by instructing Pawa ‘to not confirm that [he] attended or otherwise discuss’ the meeting he had with the attorneys general the morning before the press conference.” (p. 4)
Further outlining the cause of the court’s “concern” over the impetus of the investigation, Judge Kinkeade highlighted the potentially “biased” comments Healey made while speaking at the Schneiderman-Gore press conference:
“During Attorney General Healey’s speech, she stated that “[f]ossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be, must be, held accountable.” Attorney General Healey then went on to state that, “[t]hat’s why I, too, have joined in investigating the practices of ExxonMobil. We can all see today the troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew, what industry folks knew, and what the company and industry chose to share with investors and with the American public.” The speech ended with Attorney General Healey reiterating the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s commitment to combating climate change and that the fight against climate change needs to be taken “[b]y quick, aggressive action, educating the public, holding accountable those who have needed to be held accountable for far too long.” Subsequently, on April 19, 2016, Attorney General Healey issued the CID to Exxon to investigate whether Exxon committed consumer and securities fraud on the citizens of Massachusetts.” (p. 5)
While Healey’s comments and those of her cohorts at the Schneiderman-Gore event serve as prima facie evidence of “prejudgment” and “bias” by themselves, the discovery process could yield additional and more devastating behind-the-scenes documentation that would lead the court to a “bad faith” determination.
Considering all this, it’s unsurprising that the other AGs in Eric Schneiderman’s climate coalition tried to distance themselves from his investigation. FOIA’d emails revealed that the Virginia AG’s office said it makes them “nervous” to say they are working together and asked Schneiderman’s office to “dial that back one notch.” The Iowa AG’s office called Schneiderman a “wild card” and apparently tried to get out of attending the press conference at all, but felt they’d have to “ride it through.” Another set of FIOA’d emailsrevealed that just a few weeks after the Delaware AGs office agreed to sign on to the Common Interest Agreement (in which parties planned to keep their work concealed from the public records requests), the AG suddenly pulled out: “Our AG has determined that Delaware will not be involved in this worthy effort, and thus will not be signing the common interest agreement.”
While Healey, Schneiderman, and U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker (who ended up having to retract his subpoena) were happy to march on with this biased and politically-motivated crusade, the other AGs were apparently smart enough to see the writing on the wall and bow out before being rebuked in the courts.
Federal Court Delivers Stunning Blow to Mass. AG and #ExxonKnew Campaign
Study: Naomi Oreskes Claims Exxon Mobil Misled About Climate
Guest essay by Eric Worrall
What do you do if nobody cares about your hardline green hate campaign against Exxon? You re-present your position as a study, of course.
Assessing ExxonMobil’s climate change communications (1977–2014)
Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes
This paper assesses whether ExxonMobil Corporation has in the past misled the general public about climate change. We present an empirical document-by-document textual content analysis and comparison of 187 climate change communications from ExxonMobil, including peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed publications, internal company documents, and paid, editorial-style advertisements (‘advertorials’) in The New York Times. We examine whether these communications sent consistent messages about the state of climate science and its implications—specifically, we compare their positions on climate change as real, human-caused, serious, and solvable. In all four cases, we find that as documents become more publicly accessible, they increasingly communicate doubt. This discrepancy is most pronounced between advertorials and all other documents. For example, accounting for expressions of reasonable doubt, 83% of peer-reviewed papers and 80% of internal documents acknowledge that climate change is real and human-caused, yet only 12% of advertorials do so, with 81% instead expressing doubt. We conclude that ExxonMobil contributed to advancing climate science—by way of its scientists’ academic publications—but promoted doubt about it in advertorials. Given this discrepancy, we conclude that ExxonMobil misled the public. Our content analysis also examines ExxonMobil’s discussion of the risks of stranded fossil fuel assets. We find the topic discussed and sometimes quantified in 24 documents of various types, but absent from advertorials. Finally, based on the available documents, we outline ExxonMobil’s strategic approach to climate change research and communication, which helps to contextualize our findings.
We adapt and combine the methodologies used to quantify the consensus on AGW by Oreskes  and Cook et al  with the content analysis methodologies used to characterize media communications of AGW by Feldman et al and Elsasser and Dunlap [27, 28]. Developed to assess peer-reviewed scientific literature, cable news, and conservative newspapers, respectively, these offer generalizable approaches to quantifying the positions of an entity or community on a particular scientific question across multiple document classes.
Our study comprises 187 documents (see table 1): 32 internal documents (from ICN , ExxonMobil , and Climate Investigations Center ); 53 articles labeled ‘Peer-Reviewed Publications’ in ExxonMobil’s ‘Contributed Publications’ list ; 48 (unique and retrievable) documents labeled ‘Additional Publications’ in ExxonMobil’s ‘Contributed Publications’ list; 36 Mobil/ExxonMobil advertorials related to climate change in the NYT; and 18 ‘Other’ publicly available ExxonMobil communications–mostly non-peer-reviewed materials–obtained during our research. To our knowledge, these constitute the relevant, publicly available internal documents that have led to recent allegations against ExxonMobil, as well as all peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed documents offered by the company in response. They also include all discovered ExxonMobil advertorials in the NYT discussing AGW. Advertorials are sourced from a collection compiled by PolluterWatch based on a search of the ProQuest archive .
The most widely held theory is that:
- The increase [in atmospheric CO2] is due to fossil fuel combustion
- Increasing CO2 concentration will cause a warming of the earth’s surface
- The present trend of fossil fuel consumption will cause dramatic environmental effects before the year 2050.
However, the memo notes: ‘It must be realized that there is great uncertainty in the existing climatic models because of a poor understanding of the atmospheric/terrestrial/oceanic CO2 balance’ . Likewise, an internal briefing on the ‘CO2 “Greenhouse” Effect’ from 1982 states: ‘There is currently no unambiguous scientific evidence that the earth is warming. If the earth is on a warming trend, we’re not likely to detect it before 1995’ (see table 3). Yet, the authors say, ‘Our best estimate is that doubling of the current concentration could increase average global temperature by about 1.3 °C to 3.1 °C’ . Several internal documents make this distinction, acknowledging that increased CO2 would likely cause warming, while expressing (reasonable) doubt that warming was already underway and large enough to be detected.
This cautious consensus is also evident in charts in internal ExxonMobil presentations and reports. (Due to copyright restrictions prohibiting the reproduction of figures owned by ExxonMobil, we instead provide hyperlinks to third-party websites at which relevant figures can be viewed.) For example, in a 1978 presentation to the Exxon Corporation Management Committee, Exxon scientist James Black showed a graph (see https://perma.cc/PJ4N-T8SC) of projected warming ‘model[ed] with the assumption that the carbon dioxide levels will double by 2050 A.D.’ . Another case is the 1982 Exxon primer already mentioned, which includes a graph (see https://perma.cc/PH4X-ZJBA) showing ‘an estimate of the average global temperature increase’ under the ‘Exxon 21st Century Study-High Growth scenario’ . A third example is a table (see https://perma.cc/9DGQ-4TBW) presented by Exxon scientist Henry Shawat a 1984 Exxon/Esso environmental conference, which showed that Exxon’s expected ‘average temperature rise’ of 1.3 °C–3.1 °C was comparable to projections by leading research institutions (1.5 °C–4.5 °C) . This shows that ExxonMobil scientists and managers were well informed of the state of the science at the time. But they also tended to focus on the prevailing uncertainties: Black stressed the alleged shortcomings of extant climate models before showing his results; Shaw emphasized the variable and ‘unpredictable’ character of some values.
The study concludes that what executives discussed in private was different to their public position.
But lets think about this claim from a rational perspective.
- Exxon scientists like Henry Shaw were saying that climate might cause between 1.3 – 3.1C warming / doubling of CO2.
- A lot of this material was published – so in no sense was it “hidden”, other than use of annoying paywalls which a well funded science journalist could afford – just like the paywalls alarmist climate scientists frequently use to help fund their work.
The key point is that the science IS uncertain. 1.3 – 3.1C is a huge range of uncertainty.
1.3C / doubling of CO2 is a complete non-event – if we burn every scrap of fossil fuel available to current technology, we might just about achieve a little over a doubling of global CO2 since pre-industrial times. Given we have already experienced around 1C of that warming with no ill effects, other than in the imaginations of activists, its difficult to see how another degree would be that different to what has already occurred.
That one degree of warming to date since pre-industrial times may have included an anthropogenic contribution, but the level of anthropogenic contribution to global warming is far from certain. A degree or two of warming or cooling is well within the range of natural variation.
The high end of the Exxon estimate, 3.1C / doubling, is potentially disruptive, but the high estimate is looking more unlikely every passing year that global temperature stagnates. Even if climate sensitivity is as high as 3.1C / doubling, we can afford to wait and see.
If global warming becomes a problem in the future, our descendants will have access to advanced technology and engineering capabilities to rectify any issues. Or they could just plant lots of additional trees.
The lower range of Exxon’s estimate is an unequivocal “no action required”, the upper range of Exxon’s estimate is “we might need to do something about it in the future”.
Exxon plainly opposed frantic green campaigns to shut down the modern world because those green scare campaigns were based on fantasies, not mainstream science.
Deep greens like Naomi Oreskes are so caught up in their apocalyptic fantasies, they completely miss the obvious; an objective interpretation of the facts suggests there is no case to answer. In my opinion, Exxon’s actions and communications with the public were proportionate and reasonable.