Commentary

Left’s Absurd Climate Change Inquisition Takes Aim at CEI

Hans von Spakovsky
By Hans von Spakovsky | April 11, 2016 | 10:28 AM EDT

People hold up signs during a news conference in support of the EPA's clean power plan in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In a truly outrageous abuse of his authority and a misuse of the law, the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Claude E. Walker, has served a subpoena on the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) demanding documents related to CEI’s research on global “climate change.” Walker is part of a network of state “AGs United for Clean Power” who have formed a grand inquisition to go after those they claim have lied about climate change—which is a contentious and unproven scientific theory.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a non-profit public policy institute (like the Heritage Foundation) that researches and publishes studies and reports on issues it believes are “essential for entrepreneurship, innovation, and prosperity to flourish.” It is dedicated to the principles of “limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty.” CEI is well-known for its high-quality, objective research on energy and climate issues, which clearly has made it a target of Inquisitor Walker.

Although Walker’s jurisdiction does not extend outside the Virgin Islands (a U.S. territory), he had a subpoena issued through the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, where CEI is located.

The voluminous, harassing 14-page subpoena says Inquisitor Walker is investigating ExxonMobil for “misrepresenting its knowledge of the likelihood that its products and activities have contributed to and are continuing to contribute to climate change in order to defraud the Government … and consumers.” This supposedly violates the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which is the Virgin Islands’ version of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, or RICO.

The subpoena demands that CEI turn over all documents, communications, statements, emails, op-eds, speeches, advertisements, letters to the editor, research, reports, studies, and memoranda of any kind—including drafts—that refer to climate change, greenhouse gases, carbon tax, climate science, and the like, in any way related to ExxonMobil or the “products sold by or activities carried out by ExxonMobil [that] directly or indirectly impact climate change.” It covers the period between January 1, 1997, and January 1, 2007. And Walker wants donor information, too.

There are so many things wrong with this that it is hard to know where to start. First of all, the basis for the investigation is absurd. Walker is using a criminal statute designed to go after major drug dealers and mob organizations to go after a company that produces the gasoline and diesel fuel that Americans (and the rest of the world) use in their cars, trucks, boats, lawnmowers, and other equipment of every kind. And ExxonMobil and CEI are being targeted for having taken what these legal barons consider the wrong side of a scientific theory that is being actively debated and questioned.

The fact that ExxonMobil produces a relatively cheap, reliable energy source that helps power our world but is disfavored by Progressives and their political representatives like Walker seems to be what the company is really guilty of.

The root of what is going on here appears to be an effort to intimidate, harass, frighten, and possibly imprison or fine anyone who Walker and his fellow warders think is saying the wrong thing and who is standing in the way when it comes to forcing the rest of us to switch to politically correct and unreliable energy sources like wind and solar.

This investigation is intended to silence and chill any opposition. It is disgraceful and contemptible behavior by public officials who are willing to exploit their power to achieve ideological ends. As CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman says, “it is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.”

Given the coalition that has been formed by state attorneys general to conduct a grand inquisition against climate change deniers, this subpoena from the Virgin Islands attorney general is probably just the first assault in their quasi-religious war against unbelievers. Researchers, scientists, think tanks, universities, and anyone else who works or speaks in this area should be aware that they may soon become a target of these malicious investigations.

Fortunately, CEI has already announced that it intends to resist and “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena.”

That is important, because if Walker and his “Axis” alliance succeed, “the real victims will be all Americans, whose access to affordable energy will be hit by one costly regulation after another, while scientific and policy debates are wiped out one subpoena at a time,” according to Kazman.

CEI will be defended by the Free Speech in Science Project, which was founded by Andrew M. Grossman and David B. Rivkin Jr. to defend “scientists, writers, businesses and others targeted for speaking out on scientific issues and policy.”

As they point out, the public needs to understand how actions like this threaten “our precious First Amendment rights,” as well as “deliberative democracy, when scientists, think tanks, and private businesses are persecuted for their views.”

Make no mistake about it. What is happening to ExxonMobil and to the Competitive Enterprise Institute is persecution. It is an affront to our grand tradition of free speech and vigorous scientific debate and should not be tolerated.

Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration, the rule of law and government reform—as a senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and manager of the think tank’s Election Law Reform Initiative.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.