House Republicans Will Investigate Their Ability To Investigate Investigations

All in the interest of protecting ExxonMobil from state probes.
Rep. Lamar Smith has demonstrated little interest in understanding climate science.
Rep. Lamar Smith has demonstrated little interest in understanding climate science.

WASHINGTON ― House Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas) wants to exert congressional authority over state attorneys general who are trying to investigate ExxonMobil’s climate record.

The committee announced plans to hold an oversight hearing on Sept. 14 to “examine Congress’ investigative authority as it relates to the committee’s oversight of the impact of investigations undertaken by the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts at the behest of several environmental organizations.” The hearing will feature three conservative legal scholars, according to The Hill.

The hearing title, “Affirming Congress’ Constitutional Oversight Responsibilities: Subpoena Authority and Recourse for Failure to Comply with Lawfully Issued Subpoenas,” is a mouthful. But it basically seeks to lend credence to the committee’s efforts to investigate the state attorneys general who are investigating ExxonMobil.

The attorneys general from New York, California, Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands announced investigations into Exxon following stories in InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times reporting that Exxon’s scientists knew about the dangers of burning fossil fuels, even as the company worked to undermine climate science.

Exxon has denied those reports and dismissed the investigations as “politically motivated.” The company tried to fight a subpoena from the Virgin Islands AG, arguing that it violates their First Amendment rights and “discriminates based on viewpoint to target one side of an ongoing policy debate”; the AG eventually withdrew the subpoena.

Several other AGs have also said they will undertake investigations and enforcement actions against climate change deniers in the fossil fuel industry.

Smith, who has demonstrated little interest in understanding climate science, has been using the committee to investigate those investigations, issuing his own subpoenas in July to “protect the American people from further infringement of their free speech rights.” He has called the AGs’ investigations “a form of extortion.”

A spokesman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has dismissed the investigation as “a small group of radical Republican House members” who are “trying to block a serious law enforcement investigation into potential fraud at Exxon.”

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