Saturday, October 15, 2016

SEC Sidesteps Lamar Smith's Document Request, Declines to Confirm Exxon Probe

Federal regulatory agency says investigations are not public unless it files charges, so it will not provide documents demanded by the House Science committee chair.

SEC Chair Mary Jo White would not confirm her agency is investigating Exxon, so she will not provide documents demanded by House Science committee chair Rep. Lamar Smith. (Credit: Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
A federal judge in Texas ruled Thursday that [Massachusetts Attorney General] Healey will have to present evidence that she wasn't biased in launching her Exxon investigation if she wants to continue her probe.

Exxon had filed suit to stop Healey, saying it was fueled in part by preconceived notions that the company was guilty.

U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade said he was troubled by statements made by Healey during a news conference in April.

The company argued that Healey's remarks at the press conference called by Schneiderman to announce a coalition of prosecutors—AGs United for Clean Power—formed to pursue investigations of Exxon and fossil fuel companies over climate change matters showed her prejudice against the company.

"During Attorney General Healey's speech, she stated that 'fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be, must be, held accountable,'" according to a section of the order.

"Attorney General Healey then went on to state that, 'that's why I, too, have joined in investigating the practices of ExxonMobil.'"

Healey argued in court that she opened her investigation to determine whether Exxon had committed consumer and securities fraud.

Yet Kinkeade issued a discovery order that will allow Exxon to delve deeper into Healey's motivation by allowing the company to seek internal records detailing the foundation of the Massachusetts investigation.  

"The Court finds the allegations about Attorney General Healey and the anticipatory nature of Attorney General Healey's remarks about the outcome of the Exxon investigation to be concerning to this Court," according to Kinkeade's written order.  "The foregoing allegations about Attorney General Healey, if true, may constitute bad faith."

A spokeswoman for Healey said the attorney general will fight for the right to press ahead.

"Consumers and investors have a right to understand what Exxon knew about the impact of fossil fuels and when," said Jillian Fennimore, Healey's spokeswoman.  "Despite its claims, Exxon is subject to the laws of our state and is accountable for any misrepresentations it may have made."

The judge postponed his ruling on Exxon's bid to derail Healey's investigation until he sees the additional documents he demanded in his order.

Smith's contention that the state investigations are politically motivated will not likely be as convincing in his pursuit of the SEC, a non-partisan agency that intentionally steers wide of politics.

The SEC requires companies like Exxon to disclose any potential decrease in demand for products that produce significant greenhouse gas emissions because it could pose a material risk to investors.

Democratic members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee asked the SEC in October to open an investigation to determine if Exxon violated securities laws by failing to disclose those risks.

Read more at SEC Sidesteps Lamar Smith's Document Request, Declines to Confirm Exxon Probe

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