Attorney General explains Alaska joining other states against Exxon

(Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version to include a brief response from state Rep. Gabrielle Ledoux.)

Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, in a letter to legislators, defended her decision to support other states in an evolving federal court case against ExxonMobil Corp.

Lindemuth wrote to House Speaker Rep. Mike Chenault and House Judiciary chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux Aug. 25 that the State of Alaska joined 17 other states in an amicus brief against ExxonMobil to protect states’ authority, not to go after the oil company for any other reason.

The brief filed in North Texas U.S. District Court Aug. 17 asks Judge Ed Kinkeade to dismiss ExxonMobil’s suit against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey because, according to the attorneys general, the issue should be kept in a state court.

Lindemuth emphasized in her letter that Alaska is “not joining, taking a position or spending state resources on the merits of” Healey’s probe.

 “Our decision to join the amicus brief does not and should not in any way reflect support for the merits of the attorneys general’s underlying investigation. I believe ExxonMobil and any other company involved in a consumer protection investigation deserves its day in court,” she wrote. “The question of interest underlying our decision to join the brief is where and how challenges to this type of investigation — which involves an area that has historically been within the states’ purview — should be brought.”

A day prior to Lindemuth’s letter Chenault and LeDoux sharply criticized the state’s support of Healey in a House Majority caucus release.

“It seems that Alaska has joined up with other liberal states such as New York and California to go after oil companies,” Chenault said in a formal statement. “Alaska’s Department of Law has even stated (that) ‘none of these issues directly involve the state,’ so why are we getting involved? The Walker administration was very critical of the Legislature’s separation of powers (Medicaid expansion) lawsuit, but they have no problem being a part of this one; it’s hypocrisy at its best.”

LeDoux said the state’s participation portrays an image that the State of Alaska is at odds with the companies that produce the state’s primary revenue source, oil.

ExxonMobil is also currently leading the Alaska LNG Project, a $45 billion-plus joint effort with the state, BP and ConocoPhillips to export North Slope natural gas.

“In this time of tightening budgets it is inconceivable to me that our state is squandering these limited resources to join other states’ attorneys general who are basically declaring war against responsible energy production,” LeDoux said.

Leading to the suit in federal court was an investigation spurred by Healey’s subpoena of ExxonMobil for documents dating back decades pertaining to the company’s research and knowledge of how its business could potentially impact climate change.

ExxonMobil subsequently filed its suit June 15, contending Healey’s investigation violates state and federal laws including the company’s constitutional rights under the first, fourth and 14th amendments.

Healey was among a collection of 15 top state attorneys and those from the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia who in late March formed a coalition dubbed “AGs United for Clean Power.” The group has also been championed by former Vice President Al Gore.

The company filed its suit in North Texas U.S. District Court because ExxonMobil is headquartered in the state where most of its activities relating to the case occurred and the records sought by Healey are stored there, according to the complaint.

Lindemuth added in her letter that Alaska “has previously been the victim of this type of forum shopping” for a potentially favorable court.

Rather than challenging the state on state law in state court, Alaska has had to spend resources to defend its actions in other jurisdictions on cases that were ultimately dismissed, she wrote.

“Consumer protection is an area regulated largely by the state, and I believe it is important that consumer protection actions remain a state — not a federal — issue. If bad precedent is set in a case like ExxonMobil v. Healey, it could adversely impact state investigations seeking to root out bad actors that harm Alaskans and Alaskan businesses,” Lindemuth wrote in her letter.

After meeting with the attorney general on the matter, Ledoux said she stands by her statement in the House Majority release.

Law spokeswoman Cori Mills said the department, out of respect for other states, reviews all requests from them to join cases and then makes a decision to support the stance or not.

The amount of time and money expended by the state is about the same whether or not the attorney general signs on to a brief, according to Mills.

“Basically, all we’re doing is saying, ‘You can use our signature — the attorney general’s signature — to say we support the principles in this brief,” she said.


Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

09/02/2016 - 2:22pm