U.S. Virgin Islands withdraws subpoena of Exxon in climate probe

Trial started today for Exxon Mobil's Corp's Baytown complex in regards to accidental releases of harmful emission on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Baytown. ( Mayra Beltran / Houston Chronicle )
( Mayra Beltran / Houston Chronicle )

U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker has agreed to drop his subpoena demanding Exxon Mobil turn over documents related to internal discussions on climate change.

Walker was one of at least four attorneys general investigating the Irving-based oil giant over whether past statements questioning climate change science and downplaying its impact constituted a form of fraud against the public and its shareholders.

In a filing in Fort Worth federal court Wednesday, attorneys representing the U.S. territory and Exxon said the two sides had come to an agreement in which Exxon agreed to drop its lawsuit against Walker claiming he was violating the company’s constitutional rights.

The company had been supported Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who in a motion filed in May called Exxon the victim of a “fishing expedition.”

But the fight is unlikely to end with Wednesday’s filing. Walker says he plans to continue to investigate Exxon and would watch to see how the company’s attempt to block a subpoena from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey fared.

“This agreement will allow the [Virgin Islands] to focus on its ongoing investigation, without the distraction of this procedural litigation,” Walked said in a statement. “In the meantime, I intend to continue to work with our state partners to advance our common investigation, while preserving our limited resources to address the many other issues that face the Virgin Islands and its residents.”

An Exxon spokesman referred a reporter to the company’s statement following a press conference in which 17 attorneys general led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced they would be pursuing climate change investigations against the oil sector.

“The allegations are based on the false premise that ExxonMobil reached definitive conclusions about anthropogenic climate change before the world’s experts and before the science itself had matured, and then withheld it from the broader scientific community. Such a claim is preposterous,” the company said in March.

Paxton, one of 13 state attorneys general that have publicly criticized the climate change probe, said Thursday he was also dropping his legal challenge against the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“In America, we have the freedom to disagree, and we do not legally prosecute people just because their opinion is different from ours. We are glad that the abuse of power by Attorney General Walker, and those that he hired, has come to an end,” he said in a statement.

Walker-exxon Stipulation 6-30-16