How Exxon is using an unusual law to intimidate critics over its climate denial | Environment

ExxonMobil is making an attempt to use an unusual Texas law to goal and intimidate its critics, claiming that lawsuits towards the corporate over its lengthy historical past of downplaying and denying the climate disaster violate the US structure’s ensures of free speech.

The US’s largest oil agency is asking the Texas supreme court docket to permit it to use the law, generally known as rule 202, to pursue authorized motion towards greater than a dozen California municipal officers. Exxon claims that in submitting lawsuits towards the corporate over its function within the climate disaster, the officers are orchestrating a conspiracy towards the agency’s first modification rights.

The oil big additionally makes the curious declare that authorized motion within the California courts is an infringement of the sovereignty of Texas, the place the corporate is headquartered.

Eight California cities and counties have accused Exxon and different oil companies of breaking state legal guidelines by misrepresenting and burying proof, together with from its personal scientists, of the risk posed by rising temperatures. The municipalities are looking for billions of {dollars} in compensation for injury brought on by wildfires, flooding and different excessive climate occasions, and to meet the price of constructing new infrastructure to put together for the results of rising world temperatures.


Rule 202 in impact permits firms to go on a fishing expedition for incriminating proof. They’re in a position to query people underneath oath and demand entry to paperwork even earlier than any authorized motion is filed towards them.

Exxon needs to use the supply to power the California officers to journey to Texas to be questioned by the agency’s legal professionals about what the corporate describes as “lawfare” – the misuse of the authorized system for political ends.

Exxon claims in a petition to the Texas supreme court docket that it is entitled to query the officers so as to acquire proof of “potential violations of ExxonMobil’s rights in Texas to train its first modification privileges” to say what it likes about climate science.

“The potential defendants’ lawfare is aimed toward chilling the speech of not simply ExxonMobil, however of different outstanding members of the Texas vitality sector on problems with public debate, on this case, climate change,” the corporate claims in its petition.

The oil big’s critics say Exxon’s try to use claims of free speech to curtail the primary modification rights of others follows a sample of harassment towards those that problem the corporate’s claims in regards to the climate disaster.

Patrick Parenteau, a law professor and former director of the Environmental Law Middle at Vermont law faculty, has described the corporate’s transfer as “intimidation” supposed to make “it value rather a lot and be painful to tackle Exxon” whether or not or not the corporate wins its case.

Greg Abbott made the unusual move of writing to the state supreme court to advocate on the behalf of Exxon.
Greg Abbott made the unusual transfer of writing to the state supreme court docket to advocate on the behalf of Exxon. {Photograph}: Bob Daemmrich/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

In a extremely unusual transfer, Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott, has written to the all-Republican court docket – half of whose members he appointed – in help of Exxon. He accused the California litigants of making an attempt “to suppress the speech of eighteen Texas-based vitality firms with regards to climate and vitality insurance policies”.

“When out-of-state officers strive to mission their energy throughout our border, as respondents have performed by broadly focusing on the speech of an business essential to Texas, they can’t use private jurisdiction to scamper out of our courts and retreat throughout state strains,” Abbott wrote.

In backing its declare, Exxon’s petition to the Texas supreme court docket provides the instance of the Oakland metropolis lawyer, Barbara Parker, who in 2017 “issued a press launch looking for to stifle the speech of the Texas vitality sector or, as she likes to refer to it, ‘BIG OIL’”.

The press launch stated: “It is previous time to debate or query the fact of worldwide warming … Identical to BIG TOBACCO, BIG OIL knew the reality way back and peddled misinformation to con their clients and the American public.”

The corporate additionally names the then San Francisco metropolis lawyer, Dennis Herrera, as a result of he accused fossil gasoline firms of launching a “disinformation marketing campaign to deny and discredit” the fact of worldwide heating, and pledged to maintain the businesses accountable “to account”.

Exxon has, as well as, focused an environmental lawyer in Boston, Matthew Pawa, who represents a number of the California municipalities. The agency describes him as “an outspoken advocate of misusing authorities energy to restrict free speech” and alleges that Pawa “recruited” the California cities and counties to sue Exxon.


“These lawsuits are an affront to the primary modification,” the corporate claims.

Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard professor and co-author of Retailers of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Reality on Points from Tobacco Smoke to World Warming, stated Exxon had a protracted historical past of making an attempt to bully its critics into silence.

“Now that the arguments have moved into the authorized sphere, this feels to me like an extension of the form of harassment, bullying and intimidation that we’ve seen within the scientific sphere for the final 20 years,” she stated.

Oreskes stated that the authorized technique is additionally a part of a broader public relations marketing campaign to paint the corporate as a sufferer of radical environmentalists and opportunistic politicians when Exxon argues that it needs to be heralded for its efforts to fight the climate disaster.

“Exxon Mobil has for a very long time now tried to make themselves out to be the sufferer, as if in some way they’re the harmless harmless social gathering right here,” she stated.

The Texas supreme court docket is contemplating the case after a decrease court docket backed Exxon’s makes an attempt to use rule 202 towards the California officers. The ruling was later overturned on enchantment.

The enchantment court docket sympathised with Exxon by acknowledging “an impulse to safeguard an business that is important to Texas’s financial well-being” and saying that “lawfare is an ugly software by which to search the environmental coverage adjustments” pursued by California municipalities. However the enchantment court docket stated the defendants didn’t have enough direct connection to Texas for the case to be heard within the state.

Exxon has tried to head off climate litigation earlier than with lawsuits claiming that the lawyer generals of Massachusetts and New York have been violating the corporate’s rights by investigating it. These strikes have been blocked by the Massachusetts supreme court docket and by a federal court docket.

If the Texas supreme court docket permits its rule 202 bid to proceed, Exxon would possibly count on a extra sympathetic listening to for its claims in a state court docket system that has proven deference to huge oil.

Exxon is dealing with a barrage of different lawsuits throughout the US. A quantity accuse the corporate and different fossil gasoline companies of breaching shopper safety legal guidelines by propagating misinformation about climate science.

Oreskes stated Exxon went additional than most different oil firms in looking for to disguise the proof of its personal scientists collected about world heating and in operating a disinformation marketing campaign.

“They’re pushing their freedom of speech as an subject as a result of greater than another firm, it’s been confirmed by individuals like me and others that they’ve a monitor file of selling half truths, misrepresentations and in some circumstances outright lies within the public sphere,” she stated.

“This is so effectively documented that except they will provide you with some technique to defend it, they’re in probably fairly critical hassle.”

  • This story is printed as a part of Covering Climate Now, a worldwide collaboration of stories shops strengthening protection of the climate story

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