Smith's subpoena battle reaches Congress

September 14, 2016
In The News

EXXON CLIMATE DRAMA REACHES CONGRESS: House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith will double down today at a hearing on his bid to subpoena state officials for records of their ongoing investigations into Exxon Mobil’s climate science activities. It's the latest phase in Smith’s quest to transform his once-sleepy committee into an energetic investigator of government activities. The Texas Republican, who calls himself a climate change skeptic, demanded records from the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts back in July after those officials began probes into whether the oil and gas giant violated the law by misleading investors and the public about the risks of climate change. He argues those state investigations are an effort to stifle critics who do not support the mainstream views on climate science. 

Not lying down: Democrats, both inside and outside of Congress, aren’t letting the hearing go unanswered. Environmental groups, attorneys and lawmakers are holding their own pre-buttal to Smith’s hearing an hour before the action kicks off where they will condemn the subpoenas as overreaching and reckless. And a counselor to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a sharply worded letter Tuesday accusing Smith of a “fishing expedition” and all but calling the hearing a waste of time, POLITICO New York’s David Giambusso reports. If you go: The rally, featuring Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Reps. Ted Lieu, Peter Welch and Katherine Clark, takes place at 9 a.m. at the Senate swamp. 

More voices weigh in: New York's entire Democratic House delegation wrote Smith on Tuesday to express deep concerns that the subpoenas would interfere with “legitimate fraud investigations” of Exxon. “We are disappointed that instead of using a subpoena as a last resort, it is being used in an effort to plow ahead in haste,” they wrote. Their letter comes as Edward Cox, chairman of the New York Republican State Committee, called on Schneiderman Tuesday to comply with the Science panel’s subpoena. Cox also urged that federal prosecutors investigate a Sunday report in the New York Post that the AG’s office had attempted to reach out to billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer as the clash over investigating Exxon began heating up. 

Freedom of … First Amendment claims: Look for both sides in the Exxon-subpoena standoff to invoke the First Amendment: critics of the oil company say that the Constitution doesn’t give a corporation cover to misrepresent climate science to shareholders. Opponents of the AGs’ investigations counter that freedom of speech doesn’t give activist groups carte blanche to collude on politically motivated investigations with state law enforcement. Given that the legal experts testifying today do not include representatives from Schneiderman, Massachusetts A.G. Maura Healey or the green groups facing subpoenas from Smith, it’s unlikely either side will see much clarity in the end.