Sharing Our Climate Deception Research with Lamar Smith (Again)

October 28, 2016
Michael Halpern
Former contributor

The House Science Committee is continuing to pursue its baseless and dangerous subpoenas that, if enforced, would strike a significant blow to the First Amendment. Yesterday, we sent a response to committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s latest letter, and this time we sent it with 1300+ pages of documents that detail our very public work to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for deceiving the public about climate change science. In doing so, we again respectfully refused to comply with the subpoena for our internal correspondence and stated our continued commitment to defending our rights under the United States Constitution.

Here I am, holding the 1300+ pages of publicly-available information we sent to the House Science Committee yesterday encompassing our research on how ExxonMobil and other companies and their proxies have deceived the public on climate change science. I’m standing in front of a beautiful backlit photo of the (still melting!) arctic at our headquarters in Massachusetts, where I’ve been working this week.

Here I am, holding the 1300+ pages of publicly-available information we sent to the House Science Committee yesterday encompassing our research on how ExxonMobil and other companies and their proxies have deceived the public on climate change science. I’m standing in front of a beautiful backlit photo of the (still melting!) arctic at our headquarters in Massachusetts, where I’ve been working this week.

Some background:  Our duty—and mission—is to share information with policymakers and the public to help them make better choices, and to hold accountable those who distort, manipulate, or suppress science. UCS and other investigators uncovered troubling evidence that ExxonMobil scientists knew long ago that climate change represented a risk to the company’s product—and that ExxonMobil kept evidence of this risk from the public and its shareholders and funded efforts to undermine public understanding of climate science.

Some state attorneys general have expressed interest in evaluating whether these actions constitute fraud. UCS’s research has informed their investigations.

This past spring and summer, UCS and other non-profit organizations received a series of threatening letters and eventually a formal subpoena from House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, who wishes to stop the attorneys general from moving forward. The letters and subpoena demanded all of our correspondence with the attorneys general and with other private organizations relating to climate change. The House Science Democrats are helpfully archiving the subpoenas and all correspondence sent and received related to the subpoenas, as well as all correspondence with UCS.

We have articulated directly to the House Science Committee and in numerous news venues why we feel that this is well outside the committee’s jurisdiction and an unambiguous violation of our First Amendment rights. This view has been supported by top constitutional scholars, and, notably, by a witness called by Chairman Smith to testify before the committee, who believes that the subpoenas to private organizations like UCS raise “problematic applications of congressional authority.” We note in our letter from yesterday that this witness also expressed a “high degree of unease” with the Supreme Court decisions around the House Committee on Un-American Activities that Chairman Smith attempts to use to justify his inquiry.

Chairman Smith, in an October 13 letter, accused UCS of refusing to make information we have shared in other venues available to the committee. The evidence shows otherwise.

In fact, UCS has a timeline on our website detailing our major work on fossil fuel accountability, including information we will make available to anyone who requests it. We pointed to this timeline in a July 13 letter to the committee. In its recent response, the committee indicated that “the burden is not on Committee staff to find documents on your client’s website”. So yesterday we took the extra step to make the nature and substance of our work as easy as possible for the Science Committee to discern. We printed out the materials—all 1300 pages of it—for the committee’s inspection.

Further, we have offered numerous times in writing and in phone calls between the committee and our attorneys to fully brief the committee about our climate accountability work.  While this offer has thus far been rebuffed, it still stands.

I still hope in the long term that Chairman Smith will return the committee to its productive, bipartisan roots and work to encourage and promote America’s scientific enterprise—and not use it as a cudgel to attack scientists whose work he does not accept or advocates whose work he finds objectionable.