Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) have a thing or two to say to about efforts by Exxon, and their Republican henchmen, to shut down state probes into whether the oil giant deliberately misled the public about the connection between fossil fuels and climate change.
"Let's call this what it is: a master class in how big corporations rig the system," the pair wrote in a searing op-ed published in the Washington Post late Tuesday.
The senators lay out how the ongoing investigation by Massachusetts and New York attorneys general (AG) into potential crimes committed by ExxonMobil is "something state AGs do every day. Sometimes AGs uncover fraud and sometimes they don't, but if the evidence warrants it, the question of fraud will be resolved in open court, with all the evidence on public display."
"But instead of applauding the AGs for doing their jobs," Warren and Whitehouse continue, "this particular investigation against this particular oil company has brought down the wrath of congressional Republicans—and a swift effort to shut down the investigation before any evidence becomes public."
As Common Dreams has previously reported, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, led by chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), issued subpoenas last month demanding information about the ExxonKnew investigations, accusing the probe of infringing on Exxon's First Amendment rights. Massachusetts AG Maura Healey, New York AG Eric Schneiderman, and the eight targeted climate groups continue to defy that order.
"We say, good for them," declared the senators.
Warren and Whitehouse then nail their "fossil-fuel-backed" Republican colleagues for "bully[ing] those who dare bring facts of possible corporate malfeasance to ... attention."
Citing the hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions received by both Smith and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)—who called the state AGs’ investigation as a "misuse of power" and "politics at its worst"—they continue:
The greater abuse comes when congressional committees appear to operate at the behest of the industries they are meant to oversee.
Congressional investigations and hearings have a unique ability to focus a nation’s attention and bring facts of public importance to light. As committee chairmen, Smith and Inhofe can direct their committees’ authority as they see fit, but using that power to stifle lawful state investigations doesn’t advance the First Amendment, it tramples on it.
So we have an alternative suggestion. If Chairmen Smith and Inhofe are concerned about the First Amendment rights of ExxonMobil, they should each call a hearing, ask ExxonMobil executives to testify, and give them the opportunity to set the record straight. A committee chairman could do little more to protect any person’s right to speak freely than to give that person the chance to testify before Congress.
Reacting to the stinging take down, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, who was arrested last fall after staging a protest to draw attention to the climate change cover-up, wrote on Twitter Wednesday:
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) August 10, 2016
On Monday, Healey doubled down on her accusations against Exxon, filing a motion in a Texas federal court that charges the company with continuing "to make apparently misleading and deceptive statements to investors and consumers" about the viability of their operations, specifically the long-term burning of fossil fuels.
As evidence of the company's lack of candor, Healey cited an Exxon statement to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this year and a report the company prepared for shareholders in 2014 that said, "We are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become 'stranded.'"
Investors face financial peril if substantial portions of Exxon's vast fossil fuel reserves are unable to be burned because of the international climate agreement limiting carbon dioxide emissions.
"Those assets—valued in the billions—will be stranded, placing shareholder value at risk," said one of the briefs.
Healey has argued that is reason enough to investigate Exxon under the state's Consumer Protection Act.