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Dem takes Exxon fight to GOP chairman's backyard

Dem takes Exxon fight to GOP chairman's backyard
© Greg Nash

A Democratic senator visited the home state of a GOP House chairman Monday and slammed the Republican’s probe of state attorneys general investigating climate change. 

During an event at the Texas statehouse on Monday, Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseProgressive groups ramp up pressure on Feinstein Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (D-R.I.) raised questions about House Space, Science, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s opposition to state probes into ExxonMobil Corp. 

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Smith has subpoenaed documents from two Democratic attorneys general who are investigating allegations that the Irving, Texas-based company lied about the extent of its knowledge of climate change. Smith and Exxon allies have said those investigations invade the free speech rights of Exxon and its scientists. 

But Whitehouse noted that Smith has received campaign contributions from Exxon, and the Democrat called the attorneys general subpoenas “unprecedented” congressional actions. 

“Is it fraud, in which case something should be done? Or is it First Amendment protected speech, in which case, everybody stands down? That is the question that the attorneys general are pursuing,” Whitehouse said of the accusations against Exxon.

“For the representative to use his powers of office to try to interfere, that crosses the bounds of federalism, is doubly unprecedented, reeks of conflict of interest and completely misstates the pertinent law."

Democrats have long objected to Smith’s subpoenas of Eric Schneiderman and Maura Healey, the Democratic attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts, respectively, who are leading the Exxon investigations.

But Smith and Republicans say they are playing an important role by attempting to look into the details of those probes. Smith last month said his committee has a “constitutional obligation” to examine the investigations.

“My committee is operating within its jurisdiction to preserve scientific freedom,” Smith said in a  statement.

“Sen. Whitehouse's comments are just environmental activists' talking points, and won't stop the committee from fulfilling its constitutional oversight responsibilities …  It is my hope that the AGs and outside groups will come to the table in the spirit of preserving scientific research free from intimidation.”

—This post was updated at 7:10 p.m.