By July 5, 2016 Read More →

The #ExxonKnew climate campaign keeps unraveling

#Exxonknew, just like the anti-Keystone XL movement, isn’t about facts or science


Image from the #Exxonknew campaign. Source:

An environmental activist-led effort to restrict free speech has suffered a series of damaging setbacks in recent weeks, including the withdrawal of a controversial subpoena requesting climate advocacy documents from scores of non-profit groups.

Another state attorney general has put her investigation on hold, and environmental activists are quietly conceding that the campaign has not panned out as they expected.

This week, U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker announced he was pulling his subpoena of ExxonMobil, although Walker’s probe had previously expanded to request communications from dozens of free market groups.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, released a statement in response to the news, noting that Walker’s and other states’ investigations “were conceived and driven by environmental groups with an extreme political agenda and no actual regard for the rule of law.”

The activists leading the #ExxonKnew campaign had viewed the Virgin Islands’ subpoena as a major event. The executive director of said Walker’s investigation created a “huge sense of momentum” because the effort was no longer just “a few isolated inquiries.” Other environmental groups, including InsideClimate News, blogged extensively about Walker’s decision to join the campaign.

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The momentum now, however, appears to be swinging in the opposite direction.

In addition to the withdrawn subpoena, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed notice earlier this month that her office would not enforce the state’s subpoena until after a U.S. District Court ruled on ExxonMobil’s challenges, as well as any other appeals.

Healey’s decision effectively punts the investigation to an undefined time in the future, a rejection of activists’ claims that the “urgency” of climate change requires immediate action.

The legal setbacks have come as key members of the #ExxonKnew campaign quietly concede that the effort has failed to gain much traction.

Earlier this month, environmental activist Bill McKibben penned a defensive op-ed in the New York Daily News, in which he was forced to admit that #Exxonknew has stalled.

McKibben acknowledged that “Exxon is not really facing a blitzkrieg” of investigations, despite months of intense advocacy by green groups.

He added that “only two states” had opened formal investigations (New York and Massachusetts, the latter of which is now on hold), and he didn’t even mention the Virgin Islands’ now-withdrawn subpoena.

That’s a much different narrative from what McKibben and others have claimed about the campaign, which they have said was targeting “one of the biggest corporate scandals in American history.”

But that argument has become much more difficult to make, especially as the attorneys general who joined the campaign are now pulling back.

A recent story in the left-wing magazine The Nation attempted to defend the unraveling campaign, but a growing chorus of experts are raising concerns about the government launching investigations based on speech and political advocacy.

This op-ed originally appeared on on June 30, 2016.

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