Energy & Environment

Chairman: Civil rights of scientists imperiled by Exxon investigations

A House chairman is doubling down on his probe into the state attorneys general looking into claims that Exxon Mobil Corp. misled the public about its climate science. 

In letters to 17 state or territory attorneys general, Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said Congress has the power and the “duty” to oversee the state investigations into Exxon. 

{mosads}He repeated his call that the attorneys general provide him with documents related to their investigations, including copies of communications between their offices and several green groups, among other things. He wrote that legal precedent and House rules give him and his committee the right to look into the investigations. 

A group of 20 state attorneys general, led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman, are investigating whether Exxon Mobil lied to the public and shareholders about its knowledge of how burning fossil fuels would impact the climate. The charges are based on a media investigation last winter into decades-old research from Exxon. 

Opponents of the investigation — a group that includes Exxon, red-state attorneys general and conservative groups — say it amounts to a violation of the company’s First Amendment rights. In his letter, Smith said the investigation involves climate science that is “simply … not at the unimpeachable level.”

“Not only does the possibility exist that such action could have a chilling effect on scientists performing federally funded research, but it could also infringe on the civil rights of scientists who become targets of these inquiries,” he wrote in a late Friday letter. 

“Your actions violate the scientists’ First Amendment rights. Congress has a duty to investigate your efforts to criminalize scientific dissent.”

Smith and other members of his committee had previously asked the states to turn over information involved in their investigations, but the attorneys general declined earlier this month, saying the request oversteps Congress’s power. They contend their investigation is into potential fraud, not protected speech.

“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’s office wrote to Smith in May.

Tags Climate change Eric Schneiderman ExxonMobil Lamar Smith
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