The Republican chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee yesterday threatened to subpoena two Democratic state attorneys general and eight environmental groups for documents and communications on climate change.
Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas wrote in letters to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and the environmentalists that it was "disappointing" that they had failed to respond to prior requests for the documents.
"If you continue to refuse to provide information responsive to the Committee’s request on a voluntary basis … the Committee will consider use of compulsory process to obtain responsive documents," Smith warned yesterday.
In letters sent May 18, Republicans on the House Science panel asked 17 attorneys general — including Schneiderman and Healey — to furnish four years’ worth of documents related to climate change by a June 1 deadline (E&E Daily, May 19).
They also requested documents from eight groups: 350.org, the Climate Accountability Institute, the Climate Reality Project, Greenpeace, Pawa Law Group PC, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The attorneys general are part of a broader group of state legal officials who in March announced a coalition to address climate change and hold fossil fuel companies accountable for global warming risks.
House Republicans allege that the officials have conspired for years with the environmental groups to use subpoenas and legal action to go after fossil fuel companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp., and groups that do not believe in man-made climate change.
"Your office — funded with taxpayer dollars — is using legal actions and investigative tactics taken in close coordination with certain special interest groups and trial attorneys [that] may rise to the level of an abuse of prosecutorial discretion," the House Republicans wrote in their May 18 letter to the attorneys general.
All of the state attorneys general declined to furnish the requested documents, arguing that the committee didn’t have the authority to police state investigations.
The environmentalists declined as well, telling the committee that the requests violated their free-speech rights. The state officials and groups also declined a follow-up request sent by Republicans on the Science panel in June.
A committee aide said yesterday that Smith decided to follow up with just Schneiderman and Healey, and not the rest of the state AGs, because the two have active investigations of Exxon with subpoenas pending in court.
They are investigating whether the company broke racketeering laws by allegedly misleading investors and the public on climate change risks.
"Your office’s written responses to the Committee’s request thus far, as well as those of your fellow ‘Green 20’ attorneys general, are a deliberate attempt to mask the true purpose your investigation and mischaracterize the committee’s oversight," Smith wrote the pair.
In his subpoena threats yesterday to the environmental groups, Smith slammed some of the organizations for participating in a June hearing hosted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus that sought to tie fossil fuel company tactics to the tobacco industry (E&E Daily, June 23).
At that event, certain greens told House Democrats that they had met with state attorneys general throughout the year on the issue of investigating fossil fuel companies for their statements on climate change.
Smith told the environmental groups and their attorneys that it was "at a minimum, concerning," that they wouldn’t respond to House Republicans on the Science committee with information about their past interactions with state attorneys general on climate change.
"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 in his letter to attorneys for the Union of Concerned Scientists, which was present at the progressives caucus event.
Yesterday, conservative groups the Energy & Environment Legal Institute and Free Market Environmental Law Clinic also accused the attorneys general of entering into a contract of nondisclosure to keep records related to their climate investigations from the public.
A spokesperson for Schneiderman, who is leading the coalition of state AGs, would not comment yesterday on Smith’s letter.
"Our investigation seeks to ensure that investors and consumers were and are provided with complete and accurate information that is indispensable to the just and effective functioning of our free market," Schneiderman said in a previous letter to the Science committee.