GOP chairman cites ‘constitutional obligation’ in climate subpoenas

GOP chairman cites ‘constitutional obligation’ in climate subpoenas
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Rep. Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithEx-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Former GOP Rep. Walters joins energy company Democratic staffer says Wendy Davis will run for Congress MORE (R-Texas) said Wednesday that he has a “constitutional obligation” to subpoena state attorneys general in his investigation into their climate change-related probes.

Smith, chairman of the House Science Committee, said at a hearing that as the House’s lead panel overseeing federal science programs, he is well within his rights and responsibilities.

“The committee has the power to issue these subpoenas and enforce their compliance,” Smith said.

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“In fact, the committee has a constitutional obligation to conduct oversight any time the United States scientific enterprise is potentially impacted.”

Smith, a climate change skeptic, wants to learn more about the investigations of two Democratic attorneys general into whether Exxon Mobil Corp. committed fraud by allegedly denying global warming publicly while knowing internally that emissions from fossil fuels warm the climate.

Smith convened the hearing to assert that his panel has power over the state officials and can enforce his wide-ranging subpoenas demanding numerous documents related to their work.

“The committee is concerned that such investigations may have an adverse impact on federally funded scientific research,” Smith said. “If this is the case, it would be the responsibility of the committee to change existing law and possibly appropriate additional funds to even out any such imbalances caused as a result.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) have repeatedly argued that Smith’s subpoenas are unconstitutional invasions on states’ rights. Numerous Democratic attorneys general have agreed with them, while Republican attorneys general have taken Smith’s side.

Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonPelosi heading to Madrid for UN climate change convention What has EPA been hiding about formaldehyde? Overnight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks MORE (Texas), the panel’s top Democrat, shot back at Smith on Wednesday and agreed with Schneiderman and Healey's contentions.

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“I hope all the members of the majority think long and hard about the precedent the chairman is setting here and whether you’d like Democratic members to take the same kinds of actions against conservative-minded groups with Democrats in the majority,” she said.

Johnson said Smith’s actions are little more than political stunts, comparing them to the House Un-American Activities Committee’s hunt for communist sympathizers.

“In my own mind, I have to go back to the Red Scares of the '50s to recall a similar effort,” she said.

Smith brought in three conservative legal scholars to support his view that his subpoenas are valid, while Johnson brought in a liberal scholar to argue the opposite view.

Before the Wednesday hearing, Schneiderman and Healey reiterated their arguments that Smith’s probe is unconstitutional and overtly political.

“The hearing will do nothing to buttress a claim of authority to issue the unprecedented subpoena,” a Schneiderman deputy wrote Tuesday.

“Nothing in the committee’s ‘long history’ of research oversight supports the idea that the committee can wield oversight over state law enforcement officials in such an unrestrained fashion,” she added, quoting a letter from Smith.

Chloe Gotsis, a spokeswoman for Healey, called the hearing “just another attempt by Congressman Lamar Smith and his colleagues to interfere with our lawful and ongoing investigation into whether Exxon Mobil deceived Massachusetts consumers and investors about the impacts of fossil fuels on Exxon’s business, assets, and the environment” and said the panel “has no jurisdiction over the investigative work of state attorneys general.”

Numerous Democrats and environmentalists objected to the probe at a news conference outside the Capitol Wednesday morning.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who has asked the federal Justice Department to investigate Exxon, called the hearing a “gross abuse of federal power.”

May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, who received a subpoena along with a handful of other liberal environmental organizations, said that while her group has nothing to hide, it is fighting the subpoena on principle.

“If Lamar Smith wants our emails he should just sign up on our email list,” she said.

Meanwhile, conservative and oil industry groups highlighted research before the hearing showing that Schneiderman received campaign contributions from liberal activists like George Soros and solicited support for a gubernatorial run from Tom Steyer.