Last week, the attorneys general of 20 states met at a conference “dedicated to coming up with creative ways to enforce laws being flouted by the fossil fuel industry,” in the words of the conference’s host, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The environmental website Ecowatch called it “an unprecedented, multi-state effort to investigate and prosecute” oil companies that the AGs say “stymied attempts to combat global warming.”
What is the power of an attorney general to pry into private papers? Earlier this month, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a subpoena to Exxon, demanding that the company turn over many of its records, so that he could investigate it for fraudulent statements about the climate. Many Americans cheered. The subpoena, however, comes with constitutional dangers.
The exact content of the subpoena is not yet known. It appears, however, to have come from Attorney General Schneiderman rather than from a grand jury, and if this is true, it is problematic.