Legal Watchdog Group Accuses State AGs of Signing ‘Secrecy Pact’ Against Climate Change Skeptics

By Barbara Hollingsworth | August 4, 2016 | 5:04 PM EDT

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at a March 29, 2016 press conference in New York attended by former Vice President Al Gore. (State of New York)

(CNSNews.com) – A coalition of 17 state attorneys general led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman secretly agreed to obstruct requests for open records regarding their coordinated attack against climate change skeptics, according to documents obtained by a legal watchdog group.

A copy of the coalition’s May 18 Common Interest Agreement was obtained by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) after repeated requests were filed by director David Schnare and executive director Craig Richardson under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

E&E Legal - which calls the agreement a "secrecy pact" - is challenging the coalition’s announced plan to take legal action against climate change “deniers” - including filing criminal charges.

According to the agreement, which was signed by coalition members to advance “their common legal interests in limiting climate change and ensuring the dissemination of accurate information about climate change,” all documents exchanged between them and their “outside advisors” were to be marked “Attorney-Client Privileged” or “Attorney Work Product”.

The agreement further states that the signatories agree to “retain all applicable privileges and claims to confidentiality… [including] exemptions from disclosure under any public records laws that may be asserted to protect against disclosure of Shared Information to non-Parties.”

It was signed by the state attorneys general of California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, the U.S Virgin Islands, Vermont, Virginia and Washington State.

But E&E Legal said that such agreements are reserved for specific litigation.

“Common interest agreements must be tailored to specific legal actions, which the AG’s agreement doesn’t do,” E&E Legal pointed out in a press release. It “appears to be more of an effort to obtain a ‘Get Out of FOIA Free card’, rather than a suit or any discrete formal project.”

“This is far less a proper common interest agreement than a sweeping cloak of secrecy, one this ‘informal coalition’ is trying to cast over all discussions of their use of law enforcement to impose the ‘climate’ agenda, including with outside activists and even donors,” said E&E Legal senior fellow Chris Horner.

“It was drafted not in anticipation of any particular litigation but in obvious anticipation of open records requests. We have already revealed they’ve colluded on this use of their law enforcement powers to wage a political campaign with political activist groups and activist lawyers. This is wrong and in the end will be fully exposed,” Horner said.

“Perhaps that is why so many of the AGs have already walked away from this abusive campaign. It’s certainly why they are trying to keep it all secret.”

On March 29, Schneiderman appeared at a press conference in New York with former Vice President Al Gore and a number of other state AGs to announce an “historic state-based effort to combat climate change.”

 “We stand ready to defend the next president's climate change agenda, and vow to fight any efforts to roll-back the meaningful progress we've made over the past eight years,” Schneiderman said.

But in a joint press release issued a day later, Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt and Alabama AG Luther Strange said: ‘We won’t be joining this effort…It is inappropriate for State Attorneys General to use the power of their office to attempt to silence core political speech on one of the major policy debates of our time.”

E&E Legal previously released emails showing that Schneiderman’s staff secretly worked with eight outside environmental groups to target climate change skeptics, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).

On July 13, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee subpoenaed documents from Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and the eight green groups “related to coordinated efforts to deprive companies, nonprofit organizations, scientists and scholars of their First Amendment rights.”

After they refused to comply, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) issued a July 27 statement that said: “The Committee is disappointed that the New York and Massachusetts Attorneys General and the environmental activist organizations behind the AG’s efforts have refused to comply with lawfully issued subpoenas. Their noncompliance only raises additional questions.

“As discussions with the individual subpoena recipients move forward, the Committee will consider using all tools at its disposal to further its investigation.”

Related: State AGs. Green Groups Subpoenaed Over ‘Coordinated’ Attack on Climate Change Skeptics

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