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GOP Climate Denier Recasts Big Oil's Corporate Crime as Scientific 'Disagreement'

'I happen to believe that you shouldn't be prosecuted for disagreeing about climate change,' Texas Republican says at House committee hearing

Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-Tx.) crusade against NOAA has lasted for months. (Photo: NASA HQ PHOTO/flickr/cc)

A Republican congressman on Wednesday stepped up his ongoing anti-science campaign, accusing the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of "hyping a climate change agenda."

What's more, the remarks from Texas Rep. Lamar Smith laid bare how climate deniers are seeking to derail attempts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for covering up their role in global warming.

The testy exchange between Smith and NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan at a House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing was the first to happen face-to-face, though Smith's crusade against Sullivan's agency has lasted for months.

"That fight has included Smith sending broad subpoenas" to NOAA, The Hill reports, for internal documents related to a June article in Science by NOAA scientists that took issue with the notion of an 18-year pause in global warming—a notion oft-cited by climate skeptics.

"Unfortunately, climate alarmism often takes priority at NOAA," Smith said at the hearing Wednesday. "This was demonstrated by the agency's decision to prematurely publish the 2015 study that attempted to make the two-decade halt in global warming disappear."

Sullivan, a former astronaut, stated that she stood by "the integrity and quality of the [NOAA] study."

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the committee's ranking member, defended Sullivan and NOAA, denouncing Smith's investigation as "unfounded, and... being driven by ideology and other agendas."

In fact, Smith's questions also pointed to growing concern among Capitol Hill climate deniers and fossil fuel interests over attempts to hold polluters legally accountable for using Big Tobacco's playbook to block action on climate change for years.

According to the Houston Chronicle:

In aggressive questioning, Smith asked Sullivan if she "or anyone she knows" had been involved in discussions in the Obama administration about using an anti-racketeering statute "against anyone who might question some aspects of climate change." 

[...] "I have been part of no such conversation," she replied twice.

"That's reassuring to hear," Smith said, "because I happen to believe that you shouldn't be prosecuted for disagreeing about climate change."

Activists and public officials alike have suggested that oil giant ExxonMobil could be in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for intentionally misleading the public for decades about the role fossil fuels play in climate change.

But as Smith demonstrated at the hearing, conservatives are attempting to distort the potential investigation into Exxon, Daniel Angster wrote Wednesday at Media Matters, "falsely alleging that the investigation could broadly apply to 'those who question human-caused climate change science,' when it would actually examine evidence that oil companies knew of reality of climate change but publicly sowed doubt about climate science in order to protect their profits."

As Angster explained, "The case against Exxon would be based not on the company's 'skepticism,' but on whether Exxon violated the law."

Watch the exchange below:

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