ANCHORAGE (KTUU) Alaska's new Attorney General has reversed a policy taken by her predecessor. Jahna Lindemuth tells KTUU that the state has filed a Friend of the Court brief on behalf of states that seek to investigate Exxon in a consumer fraud case related to climate change research.
The states, including Massachusetts and New York, want to know if Exxon misled investors and the public. Alaska filed a legal brief supporting that effort Aug. 17 in the case of Exxon Mobil Corp. versus Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, court paperwork shows.
Lindemuth said the issue at hand is not global warming but ensuring states "have the ability to investigate consumer fraud issues."
A Department of Law spokeswoman said Lindemuth has not taken a position on whether the Massachusetts' investigation is proper.
"The focus is on the legal avenues that should be used to challenge such an investigation," wrote spokeswoman Cori Mills.
Lindemuth's predecessor, former Alaska Attorney General Craig Richards, was one of 13 state attorneys general who urged an end to state fraud investigations that claim Exxon concealed its scientific knowledge about the impacts of climate changes.
The company has said it "unequivocally reject(s)" the claim that Exxon suppressed climate change research.
Mills, the Law Department spokeswoman, said the shift in policy was made by the new attorney general after talks with Gov. Bill Walker.
After Massachusetts attempted to subpoena Exxon documents, the oil giant sued that state's attorney general calling the probe an abuse of power.
The brief signed by Lindemuth and others argues that "federal courts cannot and should not entertain challenges to subpoenas issued by state attorneys general."
“None of these issues directly involve the state," said Mills, when asked if Alaska would now seek to disavow Richards previous objection to the investigation.
"(Lindemuth) made the decision on the amicus brief and I think that stands for itself," Mills said.
Richards resigned in June. He soon returned to the state payroll as a contractor dealing with oil and gas development issues, including the Alaska LNG Project.
Asked if Walker had supported Richards' objections to the Exxon investigation, among other questions, a spokesman for the governor said he needed time to research the matter.
Among the states that signed the letter opposing the Exxon investigation, only Alaska also joined in the Aug. 17 brief supporting Massachusetts against Exxon.
3:30 p.m. update: The Department of Law sent the following statement on the state's participation in the amicus brief on behalf of the Massachusetts attorney general.
The State of Alaska, along with 19 other states, joined a multi-state amicus brief written by Maryland and New York in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Healey, a case concerning the proper forum for challenging a state Attorney General’s administrative subpoena. As the chief legal officers of their state, Attorneys General have broad authority to investigate wrongdoing to protect their states’ citizens. Attorney General Lindemuth agrees with the amicus brief that where there is a comprehensive process for challenging a subpoena in the courts of the Attorney General’s state, that challenge should be brought in state court, not by going to a federal court in another state. As the brief says, requiring people to use the state court system to resolve disputes ensures that the parties are meaningfully heard while still eliminating the risk of duplicative litigation and forum shopping. Attorney General Lindemuth and is not taking a position on the underlying investigation and whether its proper.