House Republicans yesterday subpoenaed the New York and Massachusetts attorneys general and nine environmental groups for documents related to state investigations of Exxon Mobil Corp.’s climate change record.
House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and four colleagues announced the subpoena at a press conference on Capitol Hill live-streamed on Facebook.
"The committee has a responsibility to make certain that Americans are free to express their views on science and public policy," Smith said. "The committee seeks to protect the First Amendment rights of companies, academic institutions, scientists and nonprofit organizations."
Smith’s move is the latest salvo in the ongoing fight over free speech related to climate change science.
Earlier this year, the attorneys general of various states met with some environmental groups, and soon after, New York and Massachusetts began investigating Exxon for allegedly misinforming the public on climate change. The attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands began, and later withdrew, an investigation into some think tanks that challenge man-made global warming.
The investigations have provoked House Republicans to come to Exxon’s defense, saying that rights of people to hold opposing views on climate change are being threatened. Smith, a climate skeptic, has sent multiple letters asking the attorneys general and eight environmental groups to release internal documents related to the investigation, but the groups have not complied.
Climate activists said yesterday that Smith’s subpoena, rather than protecting free speech, is violating it and insisted they would not be cowed by the lawmakers’ efforts. The attorneys general have said previously that the House panel does not have jurisdiction over their offices.
A "small group of radical Republican House members" will not deter New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman from investigating potential fraud at Exxon, a spokesman for the attorney general said.
Smith is "either unwilling or unable to grasp that the singular purpose of these investigations is to determine whether Exxon committed serious violations of state securities fraud, business fraud and consumer fraud laws," Schneiderman’s spokesman said.
"We believe this investigation is actually compromising our First Amendment rights to petition government and have freedom of association," added Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has received a subpoena. "We think this is not a lawful subpoena."
Other groups subpoenaed are: the Climate Accountability Institute, the Climate Reality Project, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Greenpeace, 350.org, the Global Warming Legal Action Project and the Pawa Law Group.
Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, said that his group will not hand over private correspondence. He called subpoenas a favorite tactic used by Smith to silence people who work on climate change.
Smith has previously subpoenaed scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to obtain emails related to a study that Smith claims was manipulated (ClimateWire, March 17).
"It was surprising to hear him and his Republican colleagues act as if they are rushing to the defense of scientific inquiry, considering how much they’ve done to undermine the work of scientists to raise awareness about climate change," Henn said.
Richard Heede, director of the Climate Accountability Institute and an independent scientist, said in a letter to Smith yesterday that he would not provide communications to the committee. The work of CAI, which tracks greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel production, does not affect companies, nonprofits or scientists, he said.
"Scientists from these companies, trade associations, and think tanks are free to discuss and publish their work in peer-reviewed journals and other media," Heede wrote. "To be clear, CAI is respectful of contrarian opinions and dissenting science. We have no need, nor any ability, to intimidate these individuals, nor to threaten the First Amendment rights of ExxonMobil or other major oil and gas companies."