EXXON CLIMATE PROBE TAKES SURREAL TURN AS CONGRESSMAN SUBPOENAS STATE ATTORNEYS GENERAL...

Rep. Lamar Smith seen on Capitol Hill in 2013 on Wednesday, March 6, 2013. Image: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via ap

The Republican chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee issued subpoenas of two state attorneys general and eight environmental organizations on Wednesday, seeking records about their investigation into ExxonMobil Corp's climate denial activities...

The subpoenas are the latest in a string of investigations from Texas Rep. Lamar Smith and the majority members on his committee into climate change research in the federal government, as well as activist groups and now states that are looking into whether Exxon broke the law by misleading investors and the public about the true causes of global warming. 

With the latest subpoenas, Smith is seeking records related to the investigation from the attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York, which were launched last year. 

In a press conference on Capitol Hill, Smith said the attorneys general were pursuing a political agenda on behalf of environmental groups and lawyers that violates scientists' rights to free speech.

“The Committee has a responsibility to protect first amendment rights of companies, academic institutions, scientists, and nonprofit organizations," Smith said in a statement. "That is why the Committee is obligated to ask for information from the attorneys general and others."  

Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, in February 2016. Image: Sipa via AP Images)

It's unlikely the subpoenas will yield the trove of documents Smith is looking for, though, since he does not have oversight authority of a state's investigation, as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office was quick to point out. "A small group of radical Republican house members is trying to block a serious law enforcement investigation into potential fraud at Exxon."

“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 Eric Soufer, a spokesman for Attorney General Schneiderman, in an email to Mashable

"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," Soufer said.

"This committee has no authority to interfere with these state law enforcement investigations ..." he said, adding that Schneiderman has no intention of being "intimidated."

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks at a news conference in New York in March 2016. Image: SETH WENIG/AP

The nongovernmental groups named in the subpoenas include 350.org and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The state investigations into Exxon are similar to the legal tactics that were successfully used to investigate major tobacco companies in the 1990s. Those led to landmark settlements after it was revealed that industry funded campaigns to intentionally mislead the public and investors about the health risks associated with smoking. 

The tobacco and climate probes focus on whether communications constituted fraud under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Smith has an interest in shielding fossil fuel companies like Exxon, environmentalists say. According to a spokesperson for the "Exxon Knew" campaign that has grown out of media reports of Exxon's climate research and communications, Smith has received a total of $675,597 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry since 2008, $19,500 which came directly from Exxon. 

Is anyone investigating @LamarSmithTX21's investigation of the AGs' investigation of Exxon's investigations of climate change?

Smith has a history of going after mainstream climate science research.

In 2015, Smith issued a wide-ranging subpoena to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, asking for all correspondence regarding particular climate research the agency produced. 

That investigation has largely stalled, and the combination of these two has turned the Science Committee from a non-controversial oversight committee focused on cutting edge research into a hybrid investigative committee, focused mainly on questioning mainstream climate science research findings.

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David Pike, Editor