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Politics

Bill Would Protect Mainers’ Views on Climate Change

A Republican state lawmaker known for controversial statements about transgender people and immigrants says Mainers’ views on climate change should be protected against discrimination.

Rep. Larry Lockman of Amherst says people who don’t believe in climate science are treated like heretics. Testifying before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee Thursday, Lockman quickly addressed the national headlines generated by his bill.

“This bill is not about creating a new protected class for people who believe that the earth is flat,” he said.

Instead, Lockman said his bill is only designed to make sure people who have views that differ with the science on climate change can’t be prosecuted by Maine’s attorney general.

The legislation was submitted at the request of Jonathan Reisman, an associate professor at the University of Maine at Machias.

“Political speech is supposed to get the highest level of protection from abridgment, not suppressed by a partisan thought police,” he said.

Reisman has been critical of climate science and the policies it has generated, and believes that his political speech is under threat from lawsuits like the one launched last year against ExxonMobile, which seeks the release of records dealing with the company’s climate research.

That suit was backed by 17 attorneys general, including Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat. Reisman is associated with one of the conservative organizations that could be affected by the records request, and he has accused Mills of investigating him.

Mills says that’s not true.

“I hope it’s clear that Mr. Reisman is not under investigation by my office. We are not trying to squelch his speech on any subject whatsoever,” she said.

Mills says Reisman’s assertions about the ExxonMobile lawsuit are also wrong. She cited several news reports showing that the multistate lawsuit was not about prosecuting climate change deniers, but instead alleges that the company defrauded investors by suppressing evidence that it knew about the human effects on climate change.

Opponents argue that the bill is unnecessary because political speech is already protected by the Maine and United States Constitutions.

ACLU attorney Zach Heiden said the bill could have the opposite of its intended effect — instead of protecting the speech of climate change skeptics, it could prevent the discovery of information that would inform the debate.