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ExxonMobil and US House Science Committee v US Attorneys General and Environmental Groups
Climate Change Denial in Motion
- Defenders of Fossil Fuel Business-as-Usual Push Defense
August 31, 2016 - The chairman of the House Science Committee has announced a hearing next month into the refusal by two state attorneys general to comply with subpoenas seeking information on their investigations into ExxonMobil...
- By Dan Vergano
- July 13, 2016
The House Science Committee inserted itself into a multi-state investigation of oil industry titan ExxonMobil on Wednesday — issuing unprecedented subpoenas to the Attorneys General of New York and Massachusetts as well as eight environmental groups.
In March, attorneys general from 18 states and U.S. territories announced they would investigate Exxon for possibly misleading investors about the risks of climate change. That could count as securities fraud, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
The attorneys general cited 2015 reports by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News that suggested the firm’s leadership had for decades denied global warming’s reality, despite its own research confirming that climate change was caused by burning fossil fuel.   
This investigation, pursued primarily by Schneiderman and Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey, “threatens to stifle genuine scientific debate about climate change,” House Science Committee chairman Lamar Smith said at a news conference announcing the subpoenas (which he has threatened since May). “The actions of the attorneys general amount to a form of extortion,” he added, saying the investigation was essentially a shakedown of Exxon, which has $269 billion in annual revenue, by cash-strapped states.
“The American people will wake up tomorrow shaking their heads when they learn that a small group of radical Republican house members is trying to block a serious enforcement investigation of potential fraud at Exxon,” a New York Attorney General spokesperson Eric Soufer, said in a statement on the subpoenas.
The subpoenas demand that the committee members receive all communications between the attorneys general and eight environmental groups — which include the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace, and the Rockefeller Family Fund — concerning the investigation. They also demand all of the internal communications among investigators related to the investigation.
Smith argues that the investigation into past scientific certainty at Exxon will cast a chilling effect on future research done by corporations into potential risks from their products, and block them from expressing corporate opinions on scientific matters. He called the investigation “a blatant effort to stifle free speech.”
Fraud, however, is not protected by free speech, Schneiderman said. Otherwise, companies could lie blithely about their products’ risks without fear of liability. New York’s attorney general has extensive power to investigate stock fraud, as well, where firms are supposed to warn investors about risks to their stock prices. In this case, that would mean warning stockholders that global warming could undermine the value of oil reserves.
Exxon, for its part, said it accepts the reality of climate change, and denies the suggestion that it misled investors. In a March statement it called Schneiderman’s charges “preposterous.”
The shadow of the $206 billion 1998 tobacco settlement between the once-powerful cigarette firms and states hangs heavy over the Exxon investigation. Twenty Democratic senators have spent this week denouncing fossil fuel firms for past financial support of climate doubters, in a “web of denial” publicity campaign making a comparison with big tobacco.
“Smith is attacking the free speech rights of organizations like ours with his subpoenas,” Ken Kimmel, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told BuzzFeed News. The group has provided government investigators with publicly available research on climate and on how fossil fuel companies fund critics of climate science, Kimmel said. “It’s not an illegal activity to complain about a corporation.”
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ExxonMobile Under Fire
- Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Meltsdown over Exxon with Bizarre Accusation: Like Cromwell Did Catholics?
- >U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, leading voice on climate change, locked in bitter brawl with Wall Street Journal editorial page over his proposal to sue fossil fuel companies for fraud
- NY's State Attorney and Calif's AG Go After ExxonMobil ♦ Exxon Bkrd ♦ Exxon, the Road Not Taken ♦ FBI Probe, More AGs Support Investigation of ExxonMobil
Millions spent in 2015 to lobby lawmakers and public discourse on climate change...
- While Renewable Energy expands globally with a wide range of investments in energy alternatives to fossil fuels, ExxonMobil predicts "long-term energy demand growth", increased oil/gas profits and "gains in energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy and lower carbon fuels such as natural gas likely will help lower by half the “carbon intensity of the global economy.”
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