By: Larry Schweiger
In the old days, lawmakers would carefully hide their ties to major corporate funders and especially their deep connections to the oil giants. Not anymore, Republican members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology are acting as handmaidens of big oil.
Responding to ExxonMobil’s lobbyists, the House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and the Committee majority are actively interfering with an ongoing fraud investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) who have been investigating whether Exxon committed fraud by hiding information that goes as far back as 1977.
It turns out based on documents that are now publically available, back in the 1970’s, Exxon gathered data on carbon dioxide’s role in causing climate change from top-notch scientists that they funded. When the scientists warned that their products were causing climate change, they rejected the scientific warnings, suppressed the information from their stockholders and for the next nearly forty years lied to investors and to the consuming public about climate change and their products’ role in causing it.
Instead of supporting this important fraud investigation, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology subpoenaed the attorneys general who are doing their job by investigating to see if Exxon Mobil Corp. fraudulently suppressed information about climate change from stockholders and consumers. For good measure, the committee also subpoenaed nine environmental groups who may have gathered incriminating evidence against Exxon Mobil.
The Union of Concerned Scientists was one of the groups subpoenaed. Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists responded at the time, “We believe this investigation is actually compromising our First Amendment rights to petition government and (to) have freedom of association,” adding “We think this is not a lawful subpoena.”
The Climate Accountability Institute, the Climate Reality Project, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Greenpeace, 350.org, the Global Warming Legal Action Project and the Pawa Law Group were also subpoenaed in this deliberate interference with an ongoing fraud investigation.
Chairman Lamar Smith and his witch-hunting committee are trying to intimidate environmental leaders who have been exposing the truth about Exxon Mobil and through bogus subpoenas attempting to thwart state Attorneys General from doing their job. Talk about Federal overreach and hubris, the Republican Party with a penchant for claiming state’s rights through Smith’s leadership is Federally interfering with a legitimate and much-needed state-level fraud investigation.
Concurrent with the Congressional interference, Exxon Mobil has also launched a Federal District Court action in friendly oil-rich Texas to block a Massachusetts state subpoena. Responding to this, in a friend of the court brief the States of Maryland, New York, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, Alaska and Virgin Islands have submitted “this brief to explain that governing precedents—and the federalism principles underpinning those cases—bar the recipient of a state Attorney General’s subpoena from bringing a federal lawsuit to stymie an Attorney General’s investigation, where the recipient already has a comprehensive process for challenging the subpoena in the courts of the Attorney General’s State.”
“The amici States have a compelling interest in the traditional authority of their Attorneys General to investigate and combat violations of state law. As the chief legal officers of their respective States, Attorneys General have long used their state law powers—including the issuance of civil subpoenas, which are often called civil investigative demands (CIDs)—to
gather information necessary to determine whether a company has engaged in fraudulent or misleading conduct harmful to the people of the Attorney General’s State. Proper respect for the States’ sovereign interests has long dictated that the federal courts should not needlessly impede this core duty of state Attorneys General to detect and halt misconduct.”
Exxon Mobil has a lot at stake in this fraud investigation. if found guilty, it could eventually be held liable for its proportional share of the enormous damage that climate change is doing all over the world. If the company was innocent of fraud, they would perhaps not welcome the inquiry but would be quick to respond to the civil investigative demands in this matter. Instead, Exxon Mobil is doing what it did after the ExxonValdez oil spill by using its political power and its vast legal resources to thwart accountability.
For more information on the amicus brief see: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxCMTvsKoqPrcmpTZzg2ellfUkE/preview
Disclosure: Larry Schweiger is a member of the board of directors of Climate Reality but is not speaking on behalf of CR’s board or staff in this matter.