ExxonMobil plans to use a Texas law that is unusual to intimidate its critics. It claims that lawsuits against the company for its long history in downplaying and denying climate crisis violations the US constitutions guarantees to free speech.
The largest US oil company is asking Texas’ supreme court for permission to use rule 202 to bring legal action against more that a dozen California officials. Exxon claims that officials are conspiring against the first amendment rights of the firm by filing lawsuits against it over its role in the crisis.
The oil giant also claims that California court action is infringing Texas’ sovereignty.
Eight California counties and cities accused Exxon and the other oil companies of breaking state laws. They hid and misrepresented evidence, including that from their own scientists, regarding the threat posed rising temperatures. The municipalities seek billions in damages from wildfires, flooding, and other extreme weather events. They also want to cover the costs of building new infrastructure to deal with the rising global temperature.
Rule 202 allows corporations the ability to go on a fishing expedition in search of incriminating evidence. They can question individuals under oath to demand access to documents, even before any legal action is brought against them.
Exxon plans to use the provision in order to force California officials to travel from California to Texas to be questioned about what the firm calls lawfare the misused of the legal system to political ends.
Exxon makes claims in a PetitionThe Texas supreme court has been informed that it can question officials to gather evidence of possible violations of ExxonMobils Texas rights to exercise its first amendment privileges and say whatever it likes about climate science.
The lawfare of potential defendants is intended to chill the speech of ExxonMobil and other prominent members the Texas energy sector on issues that are public, in this case climate change, according to the company’s petition.
Critics of the oil giants claim that Exxons attempts to use free speech claims to curtail the First Amendment rights of others is a pattern for harassment towards those who challenge the company’s claims about climate change.
Patrick Parenteau, a former director of the Environmental Law Center at Vermont’s law school, described the company’s move as intimidation. He said it was intended to make it expensive and painful to take on Exxon, regardless of whether the company wins.
Greg Abbott, Texas’ governor, made a very unusual move. Has writtenHalf of the all-Republican Court’s members he appointed in support Exxon. He accused the California-based litigants of trying to suppress speech of 18 Texas-based energy companies about climate and energy policies.
Abbott wrote that when out-of-state officials attempt to project their power over our border, as respondents did by broadly targeting the speech a Texas industry critical to Texas, they cannot use personal jurisdiction.
Exxons petitions the Texas supreme Court to support its claim. Exxons uses the example of Barbara Parker (an Oakland city attorney) who in 2017 issued an announcement seeking to stifle speech from the Texas energy sector.
The press release stated: It is too late to debate or question global warming. BIG TOBACCO and BIG OLIL knew the truth and propagated misinformation to deceive their customers.
The company also named Dennis Herrera, the former San Francisco city attorney, as the source of the disinformation campaign against fossil fuel companies. Herrera promised to hold the companies accountable.
Exxon also targeted Matthew Pawa, an environmental lawyer from Boston who represents some of California’s municipalities. According to the firm, Pawa is an outspoken advocate for using government power to limit free speech. Pawa also claims that Pawa recruited California counties and cities to sue Exxon.
According to the company, these lawsuits are an offense to the first Amendment.
Naomi Oreskes is a Harvard professor who co-authored Merchants of Doubt. How a Handful of Science Obscured the Truth On Issues From Tobacco Smoke To Global Warming.
Now that the arguments have moved to the legal sphere it feels like an extension of the harassment, bullying and intimidation she has seen in scientific sphere over the last two decades, she stated.
Oreskes claimed that the legal strategy is part a wider public relations campaign to portray Exxon as a victim of radical environmentalists, opportunistic politicians, and that Exxon should be celebrated for its efforts to combat climate change.
Exxon Mobil tried to portray themselves as the victim for a while now, as though they were innocent innocent parties here.
The Texas supreme Court is currently considering the case, after a lower court supported Exxons attempts at rule 202 to punish officials from California. The decision was overturned in appeal.
The appeal court sympathized fully with Exxon and acknowledged that it was motivated to protect an industry that is crucial to Texas’ economic health. However, it also said that lawfare was an ugly tool to pursue environmental policy changes in California by using lawfare. The appeal court ruled that the defendants didn’t have enough direct connection to Texas to allow the case to be heard in Texas.
Exxon attempted to avoid climate litigation before by filing lawsuits claiming that the attorneygenerals of New York and Massachusetts were violating the company’s rights in investigating it. These actions were blocked by the Massachusetts supreme and federal courts.
Exxon could expect a more sympathetic hearing if the Texas supreme Court allows its rule-202 bid to proceed. This is in contrast to a state court system which has shown deference for big oil.
Exxon is currently facing a slew of lawsuits in the US. Many others accuse Exxon, along with other fossil fuel firms, of violating consumer rights laws by disinformation about climate science.
Oreskes stated that Exxon went beyond the norm in hiding evidence from its own scientists about global heating and in running disinformation campaigns.
She said that they are pushing for their freedom of speech because, more than any other company it has been proven by people such as me and others that their track record of promoting half facts, misrepresentations, and in some cases outright lies within the public sphere.
This is so well documented, that they could be in serious trouble if they fail to come up with a strategy for defending it.
This story is part of Climate Coverage NowA global collaboration of news outlets that strengthens coverage of the climate story