Contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View are echoing false attacks on attorneys general who are investigating whether oil companies deceived the public on climate change, and grossly misrepresenting why the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands has subpoenaed records from an oil industry-funded think tank as part of his investigation.
A coalition of attorneys general has committed to holding fossil fuel companies including Exxon accountable if they obfuscated climate change research in order to protect their financial interests. This follows reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times showing that Exxon’s own scientists confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterwards. One of the climate denial organizations that Exxon funded was the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker is now subpoenaing CEI for “records of the group's donors and activities involving climate policy,” as InsideClimate News reported. CEI said it “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena,” and called it "an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.”
Now, contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View are defending CEI and Exxon by misrepresenting Exxon’s alleged wrongdoing. Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle authored a column on April 8 headlined, “Subpoenaed Into Silence on Global Warming,” in which she claimed the attorneys general are trying to “shut down dissenters” and criminalize “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.” Similarly, USA Today contributor Glenn Reynolds proclaimed in an April 11 column that the attorneys general investigations look like “a concerted scheme to restrict the First Amendment free speech rights of people they don’t agree with,” and that their goal is to “treat disagreement as something more or less criminal.”
In casting the issue as a matter of “free speech,” both McArdle and Reynolds ignored the real reason the attorneys general have launched investigations into Exxon and subpoenaed records from CEI. As InsideClimate News explained, despite Exxon’s “emerging understanding of climate change science in the 1970s,” the oil giant subsequently worked to “undermine the scientific consensus, in part by financing research organizations including CEI.” InsideClimate News added:
CEI is one of several organizations that have been repeatedly named over the years by those who have criticized Exxon and other fossil fuel companies for financing the climate denial work of third parties. After the Royal Society of the United Kingdom castigated Exxon in 2006 for giving money to groups misrepresenting climate science, Exxon said it had stopped financing the CEI.
Additionally, the Climate Investigations Center (CIC) uncovered that the year after CEI received $270,000 from Exxon for “Global Climate Change,” “Global Climate Change Outreach,” and “General Operating Support,” CEI released a climate science-denying TV commercial with the tag line: “Carbon Dioxide: They Call it Pollution, We Call it Life.” CIC stated that the commercial “caused such an outcry, we believe it triggered ExxonMobil to cut funding to CEI altogether.”
Bloomberg View’s McArdle warned that the attorneys general investigations could set a bad “precedent” that would “eventually be used against” the “enemies of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and ExxonMobil.” But that has already happened: climate science denier and then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was found by the Virginia Supreme Court to have overstepped his authority by demanding that the University of Virginia provide emails and other documents from climate scientist Michael Mann. Identical documents were sought by the American Tradition Institute, whose senior director of litigation, Chris Horner, was also a senior fellow at CEI.
McArdle did mention in her column that her husband Peter Suderman had “briefly worked for CEI as a junior employee.” While she was at it, she could have disclosed that Suderman currently works for Reason magazine, and that the Reason Foundation has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Exxon.