Exxon Mobil fired back at the U.S. Virgin Islands attorney general Wednesday with a court filing saying a subpoena sent to the energy giant violates the corporation's civil rights.
According to the filing in the U.S. District Court of Northern Texas, Exxon Mobil's attorneys wrote that a subpoena sent by U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Earl Walker is an abuse of government power made to score a political point.
Last week, Walker subpoenaed Exxon Mobil looking for information about what the company knew and when about climate change. The subpoena was part of what Walker promised would be a "transformational" act by his office, according to Exxon Mobil's filing.
That statement, according to the company, reveals the subpoena was sent for political reasons, not legal ones.
"Defendants' dubious allegation unmasks this subpoena for what it is: a pretextual use of law enforcement power to deter Exxon Mobil from participating in ongoing public deliberations about climate change and to fish through decades of Exxon Mobil's documents with the hope of finding some ammunition to enhance Attorney General Walker's position in the policy debate," the filing stated.
The investigation stems from media reports that a senior scientist informed Exxon Mobil in 1977 that burning fossil fuels would warm the planet. A year later, the company began researching how carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels would affect the planet.
In 1982, the company prepared an internal document on carbon dioxide and climate change that stated "major reduction" in fossil fuel use would be needed to avoid catastrophic events. While that circulated, Exxon Mobil failed to tell regulators about their findings, according to an Inside Climate News report.
Six years after the internal document was produced, Exxon Mobil went on the offensive, according to the report. The company began paying for efforts that would cast doubt on climate change, including founding the Global Climate Coalition.
At the same time, the company was building climate change projections into the company's future plans. Among those plans was future drilling in the Arctic because the polar ice caps would melt.
Exxon Mobil has repeatedly denied the claims and has cast aspersions on the media reports, noting that Inside Climate News received funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which works against climate change.
In its filing, Exxon Mobil says the company has no staff or operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and that the statute Walker cites in his subpoena, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, would not apply to the company due to the statute of limitations.
According to the filing, the law requires one provable act of fraud in the last five years and Exxon has openly admitted climate change's impact on the world for at least 10 years.
"Attorney General Walker's allegation amounts to little more than a weak pretext for an unlawful exercise of government power," the filing states.
Exxon Mobil wants the federal court to rule that Walker's subpoena violates the company's First, Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights and provisions under Article One of the Texas Constitution. It also wants the court to say the subpoena is an abuse of process.