A recently revealed email exchange shows that the New York Attorney General's Office tried to keep secret the role an activist lawyer played in helping to start a multi-state effort to prosecute energy companies for deceiving investors on the risks of climate change.
The email was part of a series of internal messages regarding the effort that were released by the Vermont Attorney General's Office following a public records request by a nonprofit group.
The emails show that Matt Pawa, a Massachusetts lawyer who is often involved in climate change litigation, privately briefed several state attorneys general and their staff on such litigation during a March 29 meeting at New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office. The briefing apparently came just hours before the attorneys general from 15 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands announced their effort at a press conference.
The following day, Pawa emailed Lemuel Srolovic, chief of New York Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau, to tell him that a Wall Street Journal reporter had called him requesting an interview. Pawa asked, "What should I say if she asks if I attended?"
Srolovic responded: "My ask (sic) is if you speak to the reporter, to not confirm that you attended or otherwise discuss the event."
It is not clear why Srolovic did not want Pawa's involvement disclosed. The New York Attorney General's Office did not respond to a request for comment from the Washington Examiner. Pawa's office did not respond to a request, either.
The Vermont Attorney General's Office, one of the 15 involved in the climate change effort, provided that exchange and other emails to the Energy and Environmental Legal Institute, a Washington free market nonprofit group, earlier this month.
"These emails show Schneiderman's office suggested their outside-activist green allies deceive the press; meanwhile, AGs in his coalition have subpoenaed at least one policy group's correspondence with the media. We call on these AGs to immediately halt their investigation and lay out for the public the full extent of this collusion, producing all records or information provided them in briefings or other work with the outside activists, including those they are trying to keep secret through a Common Interest Agreement," said David Schnare, the institute's general counsel.
The policy group referred to by Schnare was the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington free-market think tank that has published numerous articles questioning various claims made regarding climate science. U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker sent it a wide-ranging subpoena on April 4 requesting basically every research document, message or other communication at the think tank involving Exxon Mobil between 1997 and 2007.
The attorney generals' probe is based primarily on a Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News report that Exxon Mobil learned from one of its senior scientists in July 1977 that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels would warm the planet. Many scientists blame the burning of fossil fuels for releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing manmade climate change and the subsequent warming of the globe. The probe looks into whether the company committed fraud by not disclosing the research to investors, arguing it was a potential liability for the company.
Pawa's private law firm has been actively involved in pursuing such litigation. His website states, "We are most well known for our role in launching global warming litigation. We filed the first tort case against greenhouse gas polluters in 2004 in collaboration with eight state attorneys general and have been leaders in the field of global warming litigation ever since."
The emails obtained by Schnare's group show the various attorneys general coordinating their effort, including setting up the March 29 meeting and press conference. In addition to Pawa, the attorneys general and their staffs heard a private presentation from Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The presentation was on the "imperative of taking action now," according to an agenda included in the emails.
Frumhoff has been a vocal proponent of prosecuting oil companies. In a statement for the Union of Concerned Scientists released the same day as the March 29 press conference, he praised Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey for joining the effort. "By joining together with New York, California and the U.S. Virgin Islands in pursuing such investigations, she is confirming that the evidence of deception by Exxon Mobil warrants serious consideration of whether state laws have been violated," Frumhoff said at the time. His statement does not disclose his involvement in the probe.
A group spokeswoman said Frumhoff was traveling and could not be reached immediately for comment.