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Maryland Attorney General Frosh Using Subpoenas to try to Silence Political Debate

Posted: June 28, 2016 at 10:52 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Mark UncapherBy Mark Uncapher

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh recently joined 16 other state Attorneys General to launch, in their own words, “an unprecedented, multi-state effort to investigate and prosecute the ‘high-funded and morally vacant forces’ that have stymied attempts to combat global warming—starting with holding ExxonMobil and other industry giants accountable for fraud and suppression of key climate science.”

In explaining his support of “AGs United for Clean Power,” Frosh said: “There is no doubt that climate change is an existential threat to our society and to our entire planet….I am deeply troubled that oil companies have contributed to the problem by intentionally promulgating misleading information, testimony and advertising.  The Maryland Office of the Attorney General will continue to look for ways to address climate change, and to hold accountable any individuals and corporations who have intentionally contributed to it.”  While Attorney General Frosh is certainly entitled to his own opinion, he abuses his office’s power by directing its considerable prosecutorial authority at specifically targeting those he disagrees with politically.

Despite the AGs’ rhetoric about focusing on oil companies misleading investors, their subpoenas were also directed at a dozen nonprofits and universities.  As one of their targets, Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress points out, their claims about “fraud by concealing or fabricating evidence” are actually impossible because all the evidence about CO2 and climate is in the public domain, largely collected and disseminated by government agencies or government-funded educational institutions.  Differences of opinion regarding climate change turn not on the underlying data, but on opinions regarding its interpretation.

Epstein is the author of the 2014 book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, which tackles head-on the most common claims leveled at fossil fuels: they are dirty, unsustainable and harm the developing world. Epstein makes a case for the improvements that fossil fuels make to the quality of life for billions of people, especially in the developing world.  Worldwide, 1.3 billion people continue to live without access to electricity. This is equivalent to 18% of the global population and 22% of those living in developing countries.  Theirs remains a largely a pre-industrial experience.  As Epstein illustrates, energy enables us to improve nearly every single aspect of life, whether economic or environmental.  Calls to “get off fossil fuels” are calls to “degrade the lives of innocent people who merely want the same opportunities we enjoy in the West.”

On the very face of his book’s title, “Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” Epstein offers his own opinion, not an alternative data set.  Despite this, Epstein was subpoenaed by Frosh’s fellow AGs.

Other Attorneys General, all Republicans, have pointed the flaws in Frosh’s and his Democratic colleagues’ investigation.  They observe that the Dems’ fraud investigation targets only “fossil fuel companies” and only statements minimizing climate change risks. Yet they point out that “if it is possible to minimize the risks of climate change, then the same goes for exaggeration. If minimization is fraud, exaggeration is fraud.”

At Frosh’s “AGs United for Clean Power” press conference, the senior partner at a major venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins with significant green energy investments, Al Gore,  claimed that “manmade global warming pollution” is “the reason” for 2015 temperatures, the spread of Zika, flooding in Louisiana and Arkansas, Super Storm Sandy, and Super Typhoon Haiyan.”

The Republican AGs appropriately question this declaration, noting that “Some evidence may support these statements. Other evidence may refute them. Do these statements increase the value of clean energy investments offered for sale by Kleiner Perkins? Should these statements justify an investigation into all contributions to environmental non-profits by Kleiner Perkins’s partners? Should these questions be settled by our state courts under penalty of RICO charges?”

For example, would Brian Frosh object if an Attorney General in another state subpoenaed environmental groups for the details of their contacts with green tech companies and their investors, such as Al Gore? Presumably Frosh would strenuously object on First Amendment grounds.  And yet it is a measure of Frosh’s extreme partisanship that he is entirely comfortable in using an AG’s office prosecutorial powers against those whose politics he disagrees with.