Gore’s climate team seeks to punish political dissent

Published 11:23 pm Wednesday, April 13, 2016

AG’s United for Clean Power should embrace the more appropriate moniker, “Climate Gestapo.”

The coalition assembled by former Vice President Al Gore and 17 state attorneys general appears set to punish companies, think tanks and other climate change “heretics” to the fullest extent of the law.

But that’s just it. Rather than actually enforcing the laws of their respective states, the group is embarking on a political witch-hunt designed to intimidate their opposition.

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The global climate is indeed changing. We can measure transformations like sea level rise as they happen, and the general scientific consensus accepts that humans have a meaningful impact on the environment. For those who share the perspective of Gore and AGs United for Clean Power, that consensus requires strong, immediate political action.

But not everyone accepts this scientific consensus, and even among those who do, some believe it isn’t a large enough problem to warrant political action. Those conclusions are matters of perspective and policy. Whether correct or not, they don’t merit state-supported legal attacks.

If attorneys general are willing to form the climate Gestapo, will they soon attack groups who assail GMOs? What about people who link autism to vaccines? Why not go whole-hog and pursue people of faith who believe that God created the heavens and the earth?

In each of those cases, the very idea of investigation and prosecution by public officials seems laughable.

Unfortunately those examples aren’t markedly different from the instant case. The majority of the scientific community backs a clear position on each of those topics, but 17 attorneys general and a former vice president aren’t about to prosecute pastors for fraud based on “established” science.

There’s a big difference between articulating or acting upon scientific consensus and enforcing it as a matter of unassailable fact. We don’t need government bullies and political opportunists defining acceptable science. That’s not how science works in the first place. It’s a process that seeks to answer the fundamental questions of our existence rather than an immutable set of concrete facts we use to pummel each other into political submission.

This isn’t about a reasoned debate over application of current scientific research to public policy. That robust dialogue is already happening across the country. We’re also making great strides in reducing pollution —including carbon emissions—and even opening up conversations about better environmental policies across the political spectrum.

Al Gore’s climate gestapo intends to use the legal process to intimidate and harass dissenting perspectives. That’s the only reason why the Attorney General of the Virgin Islands feels legally entitled to donor and internal information from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank. Mere opposition to CEI’s policy conclusions doesn’t give attorney’s general—or anyone else for that matter—the legal right to fish for their private internal information or thumb through their donors.

The Supreme Court directly addressed this type of state-driven intimidation in NAACP v. Alabama (1958). There the Court found that maintaining private information immune from the prying eyes of the state was directly related to the NAACP’s constitutional right to “pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in doing so.”

That holding has stood for more than a half century. It shouldn’t change now simply because Al Gore and a minority of state attorneys general have a political axe to grind.

If Al Gore and AGs United for Clean Power want a broader base of support to engage the climate conversation, building a new gestapo is decidedly the wrong approach.

Cameron Smith is a regular columnist for AL.com and state programs director for the R Street Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

Online– www.al.com/opinion