Exxon fights Mass. AG’s ‘political’ probe into climate change dissent

Alex Epstein had a three-word response after learning Wednesday that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey had included him in her investigation into climate change “fraud”: Buzz off, fascist.

Only he didn’t say “buzz.”

Mr. Epstein is a proud fossil fuel advocate, a believer that the benefits from cheap, reliable energy are more than offset by any still-under-debate problems from rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. His views are laid out in his 2014 book “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” (Penguin Random House).

For this, he finds himself on the prosecutor’s radar. His advocacy group, the Center for Industrial Progress, was named in an April 19 subpoena issued by Ms. Healey’s office demanding 40 years of communications between ExxonMobil and a dozen free market groups and universities.

ExxonMobil released a copy of the subpoena Wednesday as part of its motion for an injunction filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, in which the fossil fuel giant accused Ms. Healey of waging a politically motivated fishing expedition aimed at muzzling her ideological foes.

“Attorney General Healey is abusing the power of government to silence a speaker she disfavors,” said the motion.

Her office swung back Wednesday by accusing Exxon of engaging in “an unprecedented effort to limit the ability of state attorneys general to investigate fraud and unfair business practices and to protect Massachusetts consumers, investors and the public.”

The investigation centers on whether Exxon committed consumer and securities fraud stemming from the company’s challenging of the catastrophic climate change narrative.

“Our investigation is based, not on speculation, but on inconsistencies about climate change in Exxon documents which have been made public,” Healey spokeswoman Cyndi Roy Gonzalez said in the statement. “The First Amendment does not protect false and misleading statements in the marketplace.”

Ms. Gonzalez also called the point made by Exxon that it does not even do business in Massachusetts “completely preposterous” and “a clear attempt to delay and distract from the real issues.”

In its motion, Exxon said the Democrat Ms. Healey had made a “preordained determination” of the company’s guilt. Certainly, she has made no secret of her feelings about Exxon.

She was one of 17 attorneys general — 16 Democrats and one independent — who vowed at a March 29 press conference to use the system to pursue “fraud” allegations against fossil fuel companies and their supporters engaged in climate “denial.”