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Maryland AG May Join New York AG in Investigating Exxon; What About Virginia AG???

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Paging Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring! Paging Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring! 🙂

In response to a petition calling for an investigation of ExxonMobil, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said his office will “hold accountable any individuals and corporations who have intentionally contributed” to climate change.

Frosh made the strongly worded statement in an email to people who signed an online petition calling on his office and 15 other attorneys general to probe Exxon in connection with the company’s history of climate denial. While Frosh didn’t say an investigation is underway, some environmental activists and elected officials from other states said his wording suggested he is poised to take on the oil giant.

Exxon is already the target of an investigation by the New York State attorney general’s office. In November, investigators for Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a subpoena demanding that Exxon turn over documents related to its climate change studies and how the company represented the information to the public. California Attorney General Kamala Harris, another Democrat, has also been under pressure to probe Exxon. Legal experts say Exxon could be accused of violating shareholder and consumer protection statutes.

“I welcome any attorney general who joins the fight,” Schneiderman said after Frosh issued his statement. Exxon and other oil companies have an obligation to ensure that their disclosures to investors about climate risks are truthful and not misleading, Schneiderman said.

As I wrote back in October 2015 with regard to Climate Hawks Vote’s petition to 15 AGs, including lots from “blue” or “purple” states, but NOT Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring:

Note that one state not included on that list is our own Commonwealth of Virginia. I’m not sure I “get” that, given Mark Herring’s endorsement in 2013 by renowned climate scientist Michael Mann, but we’ll just assume it was an oversight. It’s also interesting to note that Virginia has its own RICO statute on the booksThis statute certainly should be looked at as a basis for state-level investigation and/or prosecution of fossil fuel companies based in, or with offices in, Virginia, who engaged in climate science denial. Note that ExxonMobil has had a major presence in Virginia for years, including its Fairfax “campus” acquired in 1999.

Also note that Virginia-based coal giant Alpha Natural Resources — a huge donor to Virginia Republicans, by the way — among other activities provided financial backing to one of the most despicable, notorious climate science denial groups in the world, the “Heartland Institute,” which “gained notoriety in 2012 for sponsoring billboards comparing those who believe in climate change to the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and cult leader Charles Manson.”

Finally, I’d point out that that Dominion “Global Warming Starts Here” Power has been a funder of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that works to protect fossil fuel interests, attack clean energy, and “thwart efforts to address climate change.”

This is just a short list, of course; I’m sure there are other fossil fuel companies either based in or with strong ties to Virginia who have funded and/or otherwise engaged in covering up the indisputable link between their products and global warming. As such, this should at the minimum expose these companies to investigation, and possible prosecution, under RICO statutes. I join the growing call for federal and state authorities – including our Virginia’s Attorney General – to aggressively pursue such actions. I also continue to urge Virginia to divest from all holdings in these companies – for strong moral, environmental, and now potentially legal reasons. With that, here’s the statement from Climate Hawks Vote.

As the months tick by, and as the urgency of the climate crisis only gets worse and worse by the day, I’m really losing patience with the reluctance of state AGs – including ours – to really go after these climate-science-denying, planet-killing companies. Is there any good reason why they wouldn’t? I can’t think of one.