The chairman of the House Science Committee issued subpoenas Wednesday to two Democratic attorneys general over their pursuit of climate change dissenters after the prosecutors had refused to respond to the panel’s previous requests for information.
Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, announced that subpoenas have been sent to New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, as well as eight environmental groups, related to their “coordinated efforts to deprive companies, nonprofit organizations, scientists and scholars of their First Amendment rights.”
“The attorneys general have appointed themselves to decide what is valid and what is invalid regarding climate change,” Mr. Smith said at a press conference with other committee Republicans. “The attorneys general are pursuing a political agenda at the expense of scientists’ right to free speech.”
He was referring to a Democrat-led coalition of 17 attorneys general working with environmental groups to pursue fossil fuel companies, starting with ExxonMobil, as well as academics and free market think tanks, for possible fraud for challenging the catastrophic climate change narrative.
Those on the receiving end of the subpoenas disputed the committee’s jurisdiction over the state prosecutorial investigations. Both New York and Massachusetts have issued subpoenas as part of their probes.
“This committee has no authority to interfere with these state law enforcement investigations, and whether they issue a subpoena or not, this attorney general will not be intimidated or deterred from ensuring that every New Yorker receives the full protection of state laws,” said Schneiderman spokesman Eric Soufer.
Mr. Scheiderman has argued that fraud is not protected by the First Amendment, drawing comparisons between Exxon and tobacco companies that tried to hide the extent of health problems stemming from smoking.
Union of Concerned Scientists President Ken Kimmell accused the committee of “harassment.”
“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,” Mr. Kimmell said in a statement. “By attempting to interfere with the attorneys general investigations, Chairman Smith directly undermines efforts to hold ExxonMobil accountable for misrepresenting climate science.”
He also said it is “plain wrong to investigate a nonprofit for doing its job,” although dozens of free market nonprofits have been named in subpoenas issued by the attorneys general.
In her April subpoena, Ms. Healey demanded communications between Exxon and a dozen free market nonprofit groups and universities.
The coalition, known as AGs United for Clean Power, suffered an embarrassing setback last month when Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker, an independent, withdrew his subpoenas naming more than 100 universities, scientists and free market think tanks.
His retreat came after he was challenged in court by Exxon and the nonprofit Competitive Enterprise Institute, which continues to seek sanctions against the Virgin Islands attorney general’s office.
Rep. Darin LaHood, Illinois Republican and a former state and federal prosecutor, compared the tactics of the attorneys general, sometimes described as the Green 20, to those used in Third World countries.
“If the debate on climate change is settled, the environmental activists and state attorneys general should have no problem convincing the American public with their own evidence and arguments,” Mr. LaHood said. “Why go to such great lengths to squash differing opinions and anyone who questions their conclusions? These individuals, scientists and organizations have the right to conduct research, form their own opinions and voice those opinions.”
Mr. Smith sent letters requesting information to the two attorneys general and eight environmental groups on May 18 and June 20, following up with a final plea July 6. The deadline for responding to the committee’s request was Wednesday.
“The attorneys general and environmental groups have refused to comply with the committee’s investigation at every step,” the House Science Committee said in a statement.
Mr. Soufer countered that House Republicans have “zero credibility on this issue.”
“The American public 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 law enforcement investigation into potential fraud at Exxon,” said Mr. Soufer.
In his press release, Mr. Kimmell said his group had offered to sit down with committee staff for a briefing shortly before the subpoenas were issued but that the committee opted to proceed anyway.
“These actions suggest that this investigation is more about public relations and political theater than fact-finding,” said Mr. Kimmell.
At least two climate change advocates helped brief the attorneys general immediately prior to their March 29 press conference in New York City, which also featured former Vice President Al Gore.
A series of emails and documents unearthed in April through open records requests by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute show environmental groups discussing how to use the legal system to prosecute climate change dissenters dating back to 2012.
House Science energy subcommittee Chairman Randy K. Weber Sr. said the investigation by the Democrat-led coalition amounts to a “chilling effect on free speech.”
“Since when did it become a crime to express or hold an opinion?” the Texas Republican said.
“The difference of opinions is what makes our country so strong and unique. It’s this freedom without censorship or restraint that helped build our country,” Mr. Weber said. “However, this posse of attorneys general believes that those whose opinion, or scientific research, conflicts with the alleged consensus view on climate change should be the subject of investigation and prosecution by government officials.”
Mr. Smith said those who received the subpoenas have two weeks to respond.
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.
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