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"By attempting to interfere with the attorneys general investigations, Chairman Smith directly undermines efforts to hold ExxonMobil accountable for misrepresenting climate science," says Ken Kimmell of the Union of Concerned Scientists. (Photo: Cooke/flickr)

GOP Subpoenas in ExxonKnew Probe Decried as Oil-Soaked 'Abuse of Power'

"This subpoena is an obvious attempt by Exxon's Congressional allies to intimidate critics of the company," says May Boeve of

Deirdre Fulton

The GOP is amping up its campaign against those seeking to hold Big Oil accountable for climate deception, with House Science, Space, and Technology Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) announcing Wednesday that his panel has issued subpoenas to the New York and Massachusetts attorneys general and climate groups demanding information on their ExxonKnew investigations.

According to the Washington Post:

In a joint news conference, Rep. Randy Weber (R-Tex.) called the attorneys general a “posse” and said “since when did it become a crime to hold an opinion?” He said the attorneys general “have veered away from enforcing the law to environmental activism.”

Smith said the committee was also issuing subpoenas to eight environmental organizations to obtain documents related to their efforts to encourage the state attorneys general to pursue their Exxon investigations.

In turn, the executive director of—one of the eight groups targeted—issued a blistering response.

"This subpoena is an obvious attempt by Exxon's Congressional allies to intimidate critics of the company," said 350's May Boeve, declaring that it would have just the opposite effect.

"We know what's really driving this investigation," Boeve said, pointing to $70,000 in campaign contributions from ExxonMobil to members of the committee "and hundreds of thousands more from other fossil fuel companies in the last decade alone."

"Still," she said, "the fact that they're so blatantly acting on behalf of these corporations instead of the American people is rather astounding."

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists—which also received a subpoena demanding the group turn over its communications with state attorneys general and other nonprofits "related to the issue of climate change"—was similarly scathing. 

"Chairman Smith's subpoena is an abuse of power that goes way beyond the House Science Committee's jurisdiction and amounts to nothing more than harassment," he said. "By attempting to interfere with the attorneys general investigations, Chairman Smith directly undermines efforts to hold ExxonMobil accountable for misrepresenting climate science. It's also just plain wrong to investigate a nonprofit for doing its job—in this case, providing public officials with science and evidence to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for deception on climate change, one of the world's most pressing problems."

Earlier Wednesday, when the subpoenas loomed as a threat but hadn't yet been issued, Greenpeace executive director Annie Leonard called on Smith to make public all communications between members of the committee and Exxon, other fossil fuel companies, and allied nonprofits and think tanks.

"Maybe then the American public will benefit from a better understanding of Representative Smith's determination to serve as lap dog and personal security guard for a company that may have committed one of the most dangerous acts of fraud in human history," Leonard said.

In a statement, a spokesman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman maintained that Smith's committee "has no authority to interfere with these state law enforcement investigations."

"The American public will wake up tomorrow morning shaking their heads when they learn that a small group of radical Republican house members is trying to block a serious law enforcement investigation into potential fraud at Exxon," said spokesman Matt Mittenthal. "Chairman Smith and his allies have zero credibility on this issue, and are either unwilling or unable to grasp that the singular purpose of these investigations is to determine whether Exxon committed serious violations of state securities fraud, business fraud, and consumer fraud laws."

In May, leading progressive senators denounced oil-soaked efforts to stymie the investigation into Exxon as "Exhibit A among the reasons why the Department of Justice should take a full and honest look at possible fraud in the fossil fuel industry's climate denial operation."

When the threat of subpoenas was first lobbed last month, Greenpeace attorney Abbe David Lowell suggested the demands violated environmental groups' rights to free speech and free assembly, as well as interfered with their right to petition government officials.

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