Exxon probe is unconstitutional, Republican prosecutors say

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A group of 11 Republican state attorneys general are protesting an investigation into whether Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM.N violated consumer protection laws when selling fossil fuel products, according to a court filing.

An Exxon sign is seen at a gas station in the Chicago suburb of Norridge, Illinois, U.S., October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

Top prosecutors for Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, all of whom are Republicans, filed a brief in U.S. District Court in Manhattan supporting a lawsuit by Exxon to halt a probe by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

Schneiderman and Healey, both Democrats, are looking at whether the company violated consumer protection laws by selling fossil fuels while failing to reveal information about the effects of burning them on the global climate.

In their brief, the attorneys general said Healey and Schneiderman were abusing their power and violating Exxon’s rights to free speech by “using law enforcement authority to resolve a public policy debate” over whether carbon emissions cause climate change, a debate they claim is not settled.

The brief cites a May 17, 2016, article in the conservative magazine the National Review by Scott Pruitt, who at the time was attorney general for Oklahoma and earlier this year was appointed by President Donald Trump to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”

An overwhelming majority of scientists believe that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels is a major contributor to global climate change, triggering sea level rise, droughts and more frequent violent storms. Pruitt said in a CNBC interview on March 9 that he did not agree carbon dioxide emissions were a “primary contributor” to climate change.

“The attorneys general have raised important constitutional and legal issues in support of our position that the investigations by New York and Massachusetts are politically based and in bad faith,” said Exxon spokesman Scott Silvestri, adding that the probes were “an attempt to silence political opponents who disagree on the appropriate policies to address climate change.”

In 2015, Schneiderman reached a settlement with Peabody Energy BTU.N after a similar probe of whether the coal company appropriately conveyed its financial risks associated with climate change. The company agreed to change language in its public statements as part of the settlement.

“We will continue to pursue our fraud investigation under New York law, despite attempts by Exxon and Big Oil’s beneficiaries to delay and distract from the serious issues at hand,” said Schneiderman’s spokeswoman, Amy Spitalnick.

The case is Exxon Mobil Corporation v. Healy, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-cv-02301.

Reporting by Emily Flitter, Brendan Pierson and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Leslie Adler