Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

ONE DAY left in this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

"We're going to keep fighting this subpoena and keep ramping up our campaign to hold Exxon and their friends accountable for their decades long campaign to mislead the public about the threat of climate change," said May Boeve, 350.org executive director.  (Photo: 350.org/Linda Cooke/flickr)

Blasting "McCarthy-Like Overreach," State AGs, Climate Groups Won't Comply With GOP Subpoenas

'During the hottest year on record, Congress should be going after the polluters, not the people' 

Andrea Germanos

The House Science Committee's effort to obtain documents and information related to the ExxonKnew investigations was met with a brick wall on Wednesday after state attorneys general and nonprofit organizations refused to comply with the subpoenas, calling them an "intimidation tactic" with "McCarthy-like overreach" that violates the First Amendment.

The "requests to attorneys general and non-profit organizations are as meritless as his position on climate change," said Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA—one of the groups targeted by the committee—of chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). "The American people know this Congressional subpoena is Rep. Smith's signature move to turn attention away from the real issue at stake, which is the investigations into Exxon's climate denial," she said.

As Common Dreams reported, when Smith's committee two weeks ago issued the subpoenas—with a deadline of Wednesday to hand over the documents—the move was met with scathing responses by the groups. Now they, as well as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey—who are conducting investigations into whether Exxon committed fraud—have formally refused to submit.

Schneiderman's letter (pdf) to Smith, signed by chief counsel Leslie Dubeck, calls the subpoena "an unprecedented effort" that "raises grave federalism concerns" and would "have the obvious consequence of interfering" with the ExxonMobil probe.

"Although the Committee purports to be acting out of First Amendment concerns, those concerns cannot be anything but pretense as 'the First Amendment does not shield fraud,'" letter states.

Healey issued a similar letter, penned by chief legal counsel Richard Johnston, to Smith, calling the subpoena "an unconstitutional and unwarranted interference with a legitimate ongoing state investigation" and "a dangerous overreach by the committee and an affront to states' rights."

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) sent a letter (pdf) to Smith as well, stating that it will not comply with the subpoena. UCS president Ken Kimmell called the subpoena "unlawful" and "an intimidation tactic."

"We've been transparent about our work exposing ExxonMobil's efforts to confuse the public and its shareholders about the climate risks of its products. Our documents and materials are on our website, and our offer from July 13 to brief the committee, with minority members present, still stands," Kimmell said in his statement.

"As we have shown repeatedly in correspondence with Chairman Smith, the committee has no jurisdiction to issue this subpoena and it violates our First Amendment rights," he continued.

A joint press statement issued by 350.org and Greenpeace USA called their subpoena "just the latest attempt by Exxon's Congressional allies to chill the work of climate justice organizations to hold Exxon and the fossil fuel industry accountable for their decades of climate deception."

Their letter (pdf) sent Tuesday to Smith raises the same objections as those of Schneiderman and Healey. It states that the climate groups "now formally object to the requests made in the Committee's subpoena, because, inter alia, (1) The Committee's requests violate the First Amendment; (2) the Committee lacks jurisdiction over ongoing criminal investigations conducted by state law enforcement authorities; and, (3) the Committee's request are vague, overbroad, and unreasonably burdensome."

"Representative Smith seems more interested in violating our rights to free speech than he is in investigating Exxon's potential fraud," stated May Boeve, 350.org's executive director. "And no wonder: he's taken $675,000 from the oil and gas industry over his career," she stated, citing data from OpenSecrets.org. "We've offered time again to meet with the Committee to discuss our concerns, but they're only interested in seizing our internal documents and emails. We've got nothing to hide, but this McCarthy-like overreach sets a dangerous precedent."

"During the hottest year on record, Congress should be going after the polluters, not the people," she continued. "We're going to keep fighting this subpoena and keep ramping up our campaign to hold Exxon and their friends accountable for their decades long campaign to mislead the public about the threat of climate change."

As to what recourse Smith now has, The Hill reports: "He could ask the full House to vote to hold them in contempt of Congress, which requires a majority vote. Alternatively, the House could vote to ask House General Counsel Thomas Hungar's office to pursue court action against them."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just ONE DAY left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

'Stark Betrayal': Biden Administration Floats New Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

"This is the third time since November the Biden administration has announced new oil and gas leasing plans on the Friday before a holiday," said one climate advocate. "They're ashamed, and they should be."

Jake Johnson ·


As US Rolls Back Reproductive Rights, Sierra Leone Moves to Decriminalize Abortion

"I'm hopeful today's announcement gives activists in the U.S., and especially Black women given the shared history, a restored faith that change is possible and progress can be made."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Indefensible': Outrage as New Reporting Shines Light on Biden Deal With McConnell

The president has reportedly agreed to nominate an anti-abortion Republican to a lifetime judgeship. In exchange, McConnell has vowed to stop blocking two Biden picks for term-limited U.S. attorney posts.

Jake Johnson ·


Assange Makes Final Appeal Against US Extradition

"If Julian Assange is not free, neither are we," said a protester at a Friday demonstration against the WikiLeaks founder's impending transfer. "None of us is free."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Payoff for 40 Years of Dark Money': Supreme Court Delivers for Corporate America

"It was the conservative court's larger agenda to gut the regulatory state and decimate executive powers to protect Americans' health and safety," warned one expert.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo