Group promises to hold line against GOP document requests

By Amanda Reilly | 07/12/2016 07:19 AM EDT

The Union of Concerned Scientists will continue to object to House Republicans’ requests for documents and communications on climate change, the nonprofit group’s president said.

The Union of Concerned Scientists will continue to object to House Republicans’ requests for documents and communications on climate change, the nonprofit group’s president said.

House Science, Space and Technology Committee Republicans accuse environmentalists of conspiring with state attorneys general to launch fraud investigations of fossil fuel companies’ activity associated with climate change.

In May, Republicans requested four years’ worth of climate-related documents and communications from 17 state AGs and eight environmental groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).


Science Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) upped the ante last week, warning the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts and eight environmental groups that he would use subpoenas to obtain the documents and communications (E&E Daily, July 7).

"We have been expecting that," UCS President Ken Kimmell told E&E Daily in an interview Friday. "So that doesn’t really change anything from our point of view."

The group has hired the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP as its representatives in the document fight.

Republicans are seeking both UCS’s communications with state AGs and communications with the other environmental groups broadly on climate change.

Neil Quinter, former chief counsel for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has written responses to the House Republicans on behalf of UCS.

Through Quinter, who declined a request for an interview, UCS has argued that the Republican request stymies its free speech rights and that the Science Committee lacks authority to request the documents (E&ENews PM, June 1).

Kimmell said Smith’s latest letter mischaracterized remarks at a recent forum hosted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus that sought to tie fossil fuel company tactics to the tobacco industry.

UCS accountability campaign manager Kathy Mulvey participated in the forum, where Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) asked her and other panelists whether they’ve interacted with state attorneys general about fossil fuel companies’ disclosures and activity on climate change.

She told Tonko that she has had discussions about state attorneys general.

Smith suggested in his letter to UCS that environmental groups were being hypocritical in voluntarily offering this information to progressives while objecting to the request from Republicans.

"It appears that your clients’ affiliates have no First Amendment concerns providing information to Members of the House Progressive Caucus, yet, continually and improperly refuse to provide any information to this Committee," Smith wrote to the group.

But Kimmell said that Mulvey’s answer was "completely consistent with what we’ve been saying all along" and that Smith was "comparing apples to oranges." Answering the question at the forum is "completely different" from turning over four years’ worth of documents, Kimmell said.

"That wasn’t an accurate statement of what we had done with respect to the progressive caucus," Kimmell said.

UCS, he added, will send an official response to Smith on his subpoena threat, likely this week.

‘This is so not secret’

Shortly after Smith’s initial document request in May, Kimmell disputed the lawmaker’s allegations that UCS was conspiring with state attorneys general. In an interview then, he said UCS is open about its work and has tried to hold accountable companies and groups that advance "misinformation" about climate change.

In 2007, he said, UCS published a report, "Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air," accusing Exxon Mobil Corp. of using tactics on climate that mirror the tobacco industry’s efforts to create uncertainty about the link between smoking and cancer.

UCS in 2012 then participated in a workshop hosted by the Climate Accountability Institute that explored lessons from the federal government’s investigations and lawsuits against tobacco companies.

House Republicans have highlighted that meeting as evidence of environmental groups secretly working together to use the power of the courts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable.

"The strategy decided upon by workshop participants appears clear: to act under the color of law to persuade attorneys general to use their prosecutorial powers to stifle scientific discourse, intimidate private entities and individuals, and deprive them of their First Amendment rights and freedoms," the lawmakers told UCS in May.

Kimmell pointed out that the workshop information and the report that followed are available online.

"What’s so ironic about this is this is so not secret," Kimmell said. "The information that we’ve shared with attorneys general is mostly stuff that’s on our website. We’ve made no secret of any of this."

He added: "Of course there’s other organizations that have similar objectives that we’ve shared information with, but that’s not unusual. I mean, the advocacy community has partners in almost every endeavor. There’s nothing unusual about that."

Other environmental groups targeted by the House Republicans have made similar arguments. They’ve also lawyered up for the battle over the documents.

Greenpeace USA and, for example, are represented by Abbe David Lowell, a partner at Chadbourne & Parke LLP who has a long history of representing clients in fraud and other white collar cases.

Kimmell said Friday he sees parallels with the investigation by House Science Republicans into climate scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Neither is an "appropriate exercise of authority," Kimmell said.

Smith, who is a doubter of man-made climate change, has pressured NOAA to hand over internal emails about a study that found no pause in global warming and alleged that agency scientists have manipulated data. UCS helped mobilize the scientific community in support of NOAA.

"The scientists at NOAA had provided all of the relevant scientific data to the committee, and what Smith was looking for was private emails," Kimmell said, "and similarly we at UCS have been very transparent about the evidence we have relied upon to claim that Exxon Mobil and others have been deceptive about climate science.

"To seek our emails and all of that kind of stuff under a theory that we’re engaged in some kind of conspiracy is similarly improper," he said.