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Editorial: Punishing the climate ‘deniers’

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt deserves credit for making clear his opposition to efforts by a number of his liberal colleagues to criminalize opposition to the progressive line on climate change.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has led the inquisition. With the support of 16 other state attorneys general, all Democrats, he has been harassing large energy companies — particularly ExxonMobil — and free-market think tanks with subpoenas, threats and intimidation under the guise that they misled the public and investors by downplaying the impact of global warming.

Even the New York Times acknowledged that Mr. Schneiderman’s tactics have raised eyebrows. “Legal experts have expressed skepticism about the legal reasoning of the states’ investigations,” the Times wrote in May. Exxon’s “statements undercutting climate science, they argue, may actually fall within its rights under the First Amendment.”

What a novel concept.

The New York AG counters that climate deniers are hiding behind the Bill of Rights. In reality, though, Mr. Schneiderman is spearheading a coordinated shakedown designed to punish dissent on an hot-button political topic.

If you think that’s an exaggeration, consider the reaction from a prominent green activist when Mr. Schneiderman unveiled his crusade last year. “Big Polluters have done everything in the power to deny climate change,” said Annie Lenoard, executive director of Greenpeace USA. “It is time for our justice system to take back the climate debate.”

Sounds downright Orwellian.

Last week, however, Mr. Laxalt joined 12 other state attorneys general to highlight the folly of using the legal system to force adherence to a particular viewpoint. The coalition sent a letter to Mr. Schneiderman, the Wall Street Journal reported, noting “that if minimizing the risks of climate change can be prosecuted as ‘fraud,’ then so can statements overstating the dangers of climate change.”

Unlike Mr. Schneiderman and his conspirators, Mr. Laxalt and friends apparently have no intention of actually pursuing legal action against green energy firms that, for example, attempt to inflate their stock prices by exaggerating the threat of global warming. But the point they raise brings a much-needed dose of sanity to the matter.

In March, The Daily Signal reported, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told a Senate committee that “not only has she discussed internally the possibility of pursuing civil actions against so-called ‘climate change deniers’ but she has ‘referred it to the FBI to consider whether or not it meets the criteria for which we could take action.’ ”

This is dangerous and bizarre. There are plenty of countries in which expressing political positions unpopular with the ruling regime can result in punishment and imprisonment. When did the United States become one of them?

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