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Virginia House Speaker questions AG's involvement in climate change group

Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell  is blasting state Attorney General Mark Herring's involvement in a coalition of state attorneys general investigating oil companies, trade associations, and thinks tanks for denying climate change.

In an interview with the conservative Virginia website Bearing Drift.com, Howell said the coalition does more than simply advocate for climate change policies. "They’re trying to bring criminal prosecution against people that they think are deniers of climate change." Howell said this approach is an assault on free speech.

In the March 29 press conference announcing the coalition, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said oil companies and their allies could not use the First Amendment to defend themselves against possible fraud charges for their role in denying climate change.  "The First Amendment does not give you the right to commit fraud," he said.

Howell said that opinions and arguments about science aren't fraud, but free expression: "It boggles the mind to think that our attorney general would be part of something like that."

Asked what remedies he might seek to curb Herring's involvement in the coalition, Howell said: "I guess we can take a hard look at his budget, to see how much he’s paying for going around the country prosecuting people for imagined crimes.

"I’m sure we’re going to take a hard look at that," he said, adding: "[Herring] is not doing the job as attorney general for Virginia when he’s doing something like that."

Michael Kelly, Herring's director of communications, brushed aside Howell's concerns, telling AMI Newswire that the coalition "is a chance to explore opportunities to work together to grow our clean energy sector, build a cleaner, more sustainable future, and protect Virginia’s coastal communities, agriculture and forestry industries, and military assets from the negative effects of climate change. 

"Given Virginia’s unique vulnerabilities to the effects of climate change and associated sea level rise, I can’t imagine why that would be objectionable."

In his remarks at the March 29 press conference, Herring said he was "proud to have Virginia included in this first-of-its-kind coalition, which recognizes the reality and the pressing threat of man-made climate change and sea level rise."

Since the coalition's launch, one of its members, Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker, has subpoenaed documents from the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute, and donor information, relating to the organization's work on climate change policy.

Last week, the Energy and Environment Legal Institute released documents it obtained through a freedom-of-information request showing a high level of coordination between climate change activists and leading members of the attorneys general coalition in advance of the coalition's March 29th debut.

According to a press release, the group's general counsel, David Schnare, said the documents they uncovered described a concerted effort to deceive the media on the role outside activists groups have played in the coalition's creation and strategy.  Herring himself was not mentioned in those documents.