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House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith Defends ExxonMobil, Subpoenas Union of Concerned Scientists: An FAQ

, Research Director, Center for Science and Democracy | July 13, 2016, 4:34 pm EST
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Today House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith sent congressional subpoenas to several attorneys general and nonprofit organizations—including the Union of Concerned Scientists—demanding access to correspondence among these groups and between these groups and the attorneys general offices.

Representative Lamar Smith, Chair of the House Science Committee, has issued subpoenas to several state attorneys general and nonprofits, including the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Representative Lamar Smith, Chair of the House Science Committee, has issued subpoenas to several state attorneys general and nonprofits, including the Union of Concerned Scientists.

This is the first Congress in which the House Science Committee Chair has universal subpoena power, meaning that he/she does not need to work with or even inform the minority party before issuing subpoenas. UCS raised concerns about this expansion of power early on, and the record shows that indeed those concerns were warranted as the Chairman Smith’s actions have proven to be an abuse of power.

Why are the attorneys general investigating ExxonMobil?

Recent investigations by InsideClimate News and the LA Times, along with advocacy groups, have revealed documents showing that ExxonMobil scientists knew about climate change and its global risks by the late 1970s and possibly even the 1960s. The company appears to have been at the cutting edge of climate research, and yet chose to wage a decades-long disinformation campaign rather than warn the public and its own investors of climate change risks. Several state attorneys general (AGs) have launched investigations into whether or not these actions constitute fraud.

Doesn’t ExxonMobil have the right to free speech?

The First Amendment gives wide protections but is not absolute. The AGs are investigating fraud. As New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman has said, “The First Amendment does not give you the right to commit fraud.”

Is UCS working with AGs on their ExxonMobil investigation?

UCS has long investigated the role that the fossil fuel industry has played in undermining public understanding of climate science. Here is a timeline documenting these activities starting from 2007. UCS has provided the AGs with publicly available research and information produced by UCS scientists and others on climate science, climate impacts, and the role of fossil fuel companies in undermining science.

Who is working with Lamar Smith in trying to undermine the AG investigations?

It’s not entirely clear, as, ironically, Chairman Smith has not been terribly forthcoming with information about who he’s talking to. That said, the first letters from Chairman Smith were sent the same day as the New York Times printed a full-page advertisement sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a free-market think tank that has been funded by ExxonMobil and has regularly misrepresented climate science.

Is Chairman Smith protecting the ability of scientists and companies to pursue scientific research?

The chairman and other members of Congress keep claiming that they are protecting the right to “fund and conduct scientific research free from intimidation and threats of prosecution.” But as we continue to point out, our concerns are not with the conduct of research—but rather with how fossil fuel companies have misrepresented and cast doubt upon such research, and in doing so, may have misled their investors and the public.

By attempting to interfere in these investigations, the chairman is directly undermining efforts to hold accountable those who intentionally misrepresent or suppress scientific information. His actions are contrary to the very principles he claims to hold dear.

Is UCS being transparent about its activities?

UCS has been working for years, publicly, to expose activities by the fossil fuel industry and their allies that undermine climate science, mislead the public, and shield oil companies from accountability. We’ve put together a timeline here.

Recent work by UCS and by major media outlets have exposed a long history on the part of oil companies of concealing what they know about climate change. We have met with state attorneys general and their staff to provide them with relevant information. Our efforts on this have been open and transparent, widely available online and in public forums. Our work to hold fossil fuel companies accountable is an exercise of our Constitutionally-protected rights of speech, association and petition. Compelling disclosure of private communications would violate those rights.

In addition to having extensive publicly available material on our work, UCS offered to brief the Science Committee on our work to hold companies accountable for their actions. A subpoena is at odds with Chairman Smith’s request for dialogue.

How else has Lamar Smith used subpoena power?

At the beginning of this Congress, new House of Representatives rules gave Chairman Smith an unusual and unprecedented level of power to issue subpoenas. He has been empowered to use subpoenas unilaterally, without consultation with the minority. We raised concern about how these powers would be used in January 2015, long before we were targeted, because of the potential for abuse.

Last fall, Chairman Smith subpoenaed scientists working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over a peer-reviewed Science article on climate change they authored. NOAA offered to brief the Committee and sent their study and methodologies, but Chairman Smith demanded years’ worth of internal communications from the authors, claiming wrongdoing without evidence. The science community was united in expressing opposition to the way Chairman Smith carried out his inquiry, including a letter from seven major scientific societies stating “grave concern” that his actions could “threaten to inhibit the free exchange of ideas” and “have a chilling effect” on scientific research. The subpoena is still in effect but has not been enforced.

More broadly, this Congress has been aggressive in its use of subpoenas and investigatory power without evidence of wrongdoing, leading many to see these tactics as political weapons rather than legitimate oversight. This has the potential to erode the power of congressional subpoenas if they are seen as political tools instead of investigatory tools.

What has been the communication between the committee and the groups it is targeting?

On May 18 Chairman Smith and 12 members of the US House Science Committee sent request letters to UCS and other nonprofits demanding that they hand over all email correspondence with 17 attorneys general offices and other nonprofit organizations. UCS rejected the request. In an earlier blog post, I put the letters in context: they are an abuse of power and part of a coordinated effort to derail the attorneys general investigations into ExxonMobil’s actions. On June 17, Chairman Smith sent UCS, other nonprofits, and attorneys general a second letter repeating the intrusive demand first made in May, and citing case law related to the McCarthy/House Un-American Activities Committee as justification. UCS again rejected this request.

On July 6, Chairman Smith sent a third letter, threatening to subpoena the recipients but inviting a dialogue. UCS responded to the third letter and offered to brief the committee. But Chairman Smith then proceeded to issue a subpoena within hours of our offer. These actions suggest that this investigation is more about public relations and political theater than fact finding. UCS President Ken Kimmell has responded with a statement, noting that “We won’t be intimidated by this tactic and will continue to provide states, our colleagues and the public with the best available scientific evidence on climate change and other critical issues.”

Posted in: Global Warming, Science and Democracy Tags: ,

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  • Sig .Other

    Here you go, UCS: http://climatesciencedefensefund.org
    They are dying to hear from you- they will fix you right up.
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  • 3GSimpleton

    Oh dear…whatever shall we do!

  • RobertVincin

    In conducting standard due diligence before committing to written spoken word on science, I could find no science papers article tabled by Mr Smith! AS an outsider, far from USA chatter, I write to correct the ill-founded thoughts presented to Congress! I write in very lay terms. Apology for length but, this ill-informed attack on the USA Government and Science community must be addressed in some detail, by experts who understand the science and indeed the massive business opportunity that Congress is not being informed about!

    Climate Change is a natural event following mass volcanic eruptions of CO2e, dust, etc. that blocked much of the Sun’s heat and radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. Vegetation died and deserts formed! These desert reflected heat CO2 to upper atmosphere, adding to, abnormal heat build-up (currently being experienced global. Mass CO2e build-up if thicker lead to cooling!)
    • Nature took thousands to millions of years to progressively re-grow the 2-4% of Earths native vegetation to sequestered CO2e (equivalent nasty toxics than takes 1000s of years to become CO2. This vegetation root manure becomes soil soil-carbon.
    • (Ask the Congress to go outside look up to the old building where the bird dropped seed becomes a plant and roots deliver soil (soil-carbon). Nature balance in action!
    Earth is a Bank, a Bank of Assets soil-water-vegetation-atmosphere-bees. Sea faring man strips nations (continents) assets back to anthropogenic deserts. Today developed and developing Nations (the latter own the anthropogenic deserts and rely on USAID for food medicines)!

    If Earth was, as it should be, operated like a Corporation, the Receivers of the Assets would report to the BOD (and indeed a business of such magnitude also report to Congress) the Baseline assets are stripped more than 55%. Now past sustainability! The BOD and indeed Congress would charge the Chair and committee of its own Science panel “How did this asset stripping go on-reported for so long who is liable?
    Sadly, the Chair of Science Committee obviously with “limited science knowledge” should have reported not just to Congress but to Washington en-toto “Man as accelerated natural climate Change 1,000++ fold, but, there is a solution! A solution that permits BAU in short term! A solution has the Congress been informed would generate 1,000 fold the National Tax income gained from oil mining operations!
    Well informed, well planned, USA could have replicated Natures protocol offsetting the obvious anthropogenic emissions, and become, the world leader in converting CO2 build-up back as soil soil-carbon. The Global respect USA would have generated would have a place in History!
    • Well advised, supported by well proven Nature science studies and actual! The US government could not only lower CO2e-Emissions but also,
    • Under the UNFCCC -IPCC true science bodies et al, like in the following Nature Science protocol where PRC will by 2020 lower 8Bn tonnes of CO2 pa meeting UNFCCC 100-year rule. The offsets cost is about 1-2cents per apple at supper-market.
    • Reality! The world needs to lower 48billion++ more of CO2e (e -toxins from oil mining)
    • Well planned by a US both houses could, reverse deserts, drought, poverty global just by replicating Nature sink CO2 to become Carbon soil. Like PRC are doing!
    • From a PR perspective, Congress by being misled on Nature and Science, has walked from being, the most environmentally Climate Change science respected Nation! Worse walked away from CO2 offset trading with global emitting industry of Bn$960 T O pa NPV at the rate of UNFCCC 100year rule registered verified certified offsets. Add to this the perpetual soil growing Farm land multiply the above x 2,000+.
    • HERE IS WHAT I lead and taught at Law, Science, Agriculture, Forestry Peking et al Universities, 7 Ministers, 9 Governors and importantly Farmers in PRC

    Bottom Line in medicine and law! A second opinion is sought! Any person in science will verify, 6 science backed and indeed physically proven evidence demanded before opening one’s mouth!
    Mr. Smith’s starts the CO2 cycle with his line of work the CO2 has nowhere to go nowhere! Mother Nature the receiver (owner) of the assets (along with your grandkids) cannot keep up with the global asset stripping by a few!
    Here in the following verification is what PRC are doing and once this EU/UK Brexit thing settles Government Leaders will apply the science fact in Africa!
    I respectfully suggest the Congress gain an independent study or subpoena me before the houses!

    Invited by the late Maurice Strong 96-99 to join UNCTAD panel to help write the Kyoto Protocol here is what UNFCCC COP3 science panel settled upon. It is this science base this self-funding approach that I lead teach governments and science law schools.
    Climate Change reparation is the greatest business opportunity for Government of all time. If President Roosevelt was alive today he would declare “build me, CO2 sinks, reverse the degradation oil companies leave, lower me CO2 build-up trade CO2 offsets bring in money!

    Here is the model! If I were but down the road I would bring my working models all aspects of environment “degradation to reparation” and living models soil from sand. Within 23.5 minutes Congress would know the correct answer to Climate Change questions before the Science Chair put forward personal un-scientific thoughts. God Save the USA!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbI8YZmBP8g

    Without Prejudice
    Robert Vincin
    Chair Emission Trading Association Ltd (1998)
    PO Box 804
    Drummoyne 1470
    Sydney
    Australia

    • 3GSimpleton

      Funny…you sound like a shill for Goldman. Go monetize yourself…

      • A. Nony Mous

        Before you troll the guy, do a simple google search. The guy is legit. He’s even done formal presentations for Australian govt and other countries you can read about online.

        CO2 heat sinks, food policies and scarcity projections, AND make money quick etc. can sound like a lot of pseudoscience and snake oil salesmanship, but it can also be real as is the case here. He is trying to speak US capitalist speak by including money in the selling argument since doing the right thing doesn’t always work with govts and big business. hehe.

        Exon Mobile could turn around their bad image, do the world good, and save their future asses if they listened to their own climate change research decades ago and started investing in profitable innovation away from fossil fuels, etc., but that might take away from their immediate ginormous profits and most of them prolly bank on being dead from old age in a few years anyways so don’t care. Big dinosaur businesses like that would rather take the easy, profits-now approach and just bribe govt officials like Lamar Smith (republicans are easiest to bribe after all) to keep doing business as usual.

        You can troll away all you want, but try not to do it to well meaning scientists. 😉

  • chaunceysix8

    The only concern that this business has is making money. It would seem then that the best way to change Exxon’s behavior is to boycott their product. I urge all those interested in climate change to destroy their Exxon/Mobil credit cards and stop buying their products. No marches, no blocking access to their stations just the simple act of buying from another store.

    • 3GSimpleton

      Yes, I’m sure your call for a boycott will have a resounding impact.

    • Ryan Alt

      It’s amazing how few people even think of boycotting abusive(even criminal) companies. Whenever I read a story like this, boycotting and work striking are always the first options that enter my mind. Millions of honest and dedicated people(customers) working together could bring any company to its knees and such a course of action is probably much easier to facilitate now that we are in this information age.