Politics & Policy

The Exxon Inquisition

(David McNew/Getty)

Having failed in their shakedown of Chevron, New York Democrats are turning their attention to Exxon, with the office of state attorney general Eric Schneiderman attempting to prosecute Exxon for holding naughty views on the subject of global warming.

Earlier this week, Exxon was served with a subpoena demanding at least a decade’s worth of financial records relating to Exxon’s own climate research and its relationship with outside activist groups that have opposed U.S. entry into the Kyoto protocols and criticized arguments for certain regulations aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions. This is a flat-out campaign aimed at punishing a corporation for having a policy disagreement with Democrats.

This did not come out of nowhere. For years, Democrats and left-wing activists have been demanding that government — allow us to quote directly here — “arrest climate-change deniers.” Demands for the arrest of Charles and David Koch are common, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has publicly called for the arrest of people who hold views on climate change with which he disagrees. There are also calls to censor the arguments of those who believe that the threats posed by carbon dioxide emissions are exaggerated, and to make funding activism and research at odds with the prevailing Democratic view of the issue a crime.

RELATED: The Calcification of Climate Science

This is part of a wider Democratic assault on the free-speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment — which Senate Democrats under Harry Reid’s leadership voted to repeal — and a still wider campaign to criminalize politics, as seen in the ridiculous felony indictment of Texas governor Rick Perry over his vetoing a bill. Most of this is simple bullying, but there often is an element of self-interest at play, too: In the matter of the attempted shakedown of Chevron — a project found by a federal court to be a criminal conspiracy — former Andrew Cuomo aide and Democratic National Committee figure Karen Hinton was found to have attempted to negotiate for herself a 5 percent stake in the multi-billion-dollar case, a fact that Politico and the Huffington Post did not bother to disclose when publishing Hinton’s overheated columns on the controversy. Al Gore and other prominent Democrats have a great many financial interests that would be served by more-intense climate-change regulation, a fact that should not be overlooked when considering the case against Exxon.

#share#Ironically, so does Exxon. The oil giant’s acquisition of XTO Energy in 2010 made it the nation’s largest producer of natural gas, meaning that it would benefit from regulations forcing a shift away from relatively high-emission fuels, especially coal, toward relatively low-emission natural gas in electricity generation. Exxon has long funded climate research that has produced findings in line with the general scientific consensus on the issue, and the company even supports the idea of a tax on carbon dioxide emissions (which would, not coincidentally, be a much heavier tax on Exxon’s competitors in the coal business). Exxon also financed activist groups opposed to the Kyoto protocols, a proposed multinational regulatory regime aimed at counteracting climate change, and the company itself has campaigned against certain climate-change proposals.

The Democrats’ approach here is a direct assault on American civil liberties: Hold the wrong views, you’re a criminal.

The state of New York intends to argue that Exxon willfully misled the public on this matter. The precedent here is the prosecution of tobacco companies, which were accused of committing fraud when their public statements on the addictiveness of tobacco and its associated health risks were at odds with their own internal research. The tobacco case was questionable at best; the argument that Exxon is committing fraud at the expense of the public’s health in the matter of worldwide climate conditions is extraordinarily tenuous, not least because Exxon itself has been quite public about the possible effects of climate change on its own business, especially its operations in the Arctic. But ridiculous cases still can cost millions and millions of dollars to fight — Chevron has spent, and continues to spend, an extraordinary sum of money fighting off the shakedown organized by Barack Obama’s basketball buddy (and Democratic patron) Steve Donziger.

#related#Global warming is a matter of public political controversy, and the First Amendment is intended specifically to protect debate on these matters. The Democrats’ approach here is a direct assault on American civil liberties: Hold the wrong views, you’re a criminal. Even if it were true that Exxon and people associated with Exxon made statements that contradict the scientific consensus, do we really want politicians making a criminal matter out of what are, after all, political disagreements? If making false or exaggerated claims about issues related to health is going to be a criminal, then we should lock up every member of Congress who voted for the so-called Affordable Care Act, which was sold to the public as incorporating evidence-based medical criteria but which will in fact subsidize such unscientific pseudoscience as acupuncture and aromatherapy. We’d better be prepared to lock up all the yoga instructors and chiropractors until somebody can prove that chi and “innate intelligence” actually exist.

That’s what we’d do if this were about public health. But that is the last thing this is about. This is straight-up, naked political repression and should be unsentimentally understood as such.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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