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Democratic Members of the Committee Push Back Against Majority's "Investigation" in Defense of ExxonMobil

Sep 14, 2016
Press Release

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to examine the Committee’s investigative authority with respect to the Majority’s “investigation” into state Attorneys General and environmental groups.

Following a series of recent investigations by non-profit organizations and media outlets that raised questions about what the oil and gas industry internally knew about the impact fossil fuel production was having on global warming, when they knew it, and the contrast with their public statements, several State AGs began investigating ExxonMobil for potential shareholder and consumer fraud. Chairman Smith then launched an “investigation” into these AGs and NGOs actions. Dissatisfied with the lack of documents from the AGs and NGOs, the Majority issued subpoenas to two state AGs—Massachusetts and New York—and nine NGOs.

Democratic Members of the Committee and the witness invited by the Minority made several key points.

  • The Chairman is misusing the Committee’s oversight authority to interfere on behalf of ExxonMobil in state law enforcement investigations.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said, “Since the Science Committee was first established 58-years ago, it has traditionally used its legitimate oversight authority and its investigative tools effectively, identifying technical challenges and helping to resolve real problems, often in a bipartisan manner. But this has changed recently. Today the Majority seems to view its oversight powers as a political tool, and the Committee’s investigative authority as unbounded.

“This hearing appears to be the culmination of a politically motivated ‘oversight’ agenda that has been applauded by oil, gas, and mining interests and broadly condemned by the public, the media and the independent scientific community across the country and around the world.”

  • In the two century history of our nation, Congress has never before issued a subpoena to a state AG in their official capacity.

Professor Charles Tiefer, University of Baltimore and Former Acting General Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives, said in his testimony, “No House Committee has ever tried to enforce subpoenas against state Attorneys General.  I challenge, bluntly, the majority witnesses to do what their written testimony does not do – provide written citations for any House committee, in over two hundred years of House investigations, to have ever tried to enforce a subpoena against state Attorneys General.”

  • Investigations and prosecutions of state law by AGs generally fall under police powers reserved to states, and are not subject to federal interference.

Professor Tiefer said, “Looking particularly at these subpoenas, they concern state Attorney General law enforcement investigations of climate risk fraud.  These go against the combination of mutually reinforcing aspects of resistance, namely, federalism and law enforcement. 

“It is not merely that in this matter, a House Committee is going into an area that is largely left to the states, like crime on school premises.  Rather, a House Committee is going squarely against a key component of state sovereignty itself, namely, state Attorneys General.  Could Congress abolish state Attorneys General?  Could Congress put state Attorneys General under the command of the nearest U.S. Attorneys?  Could Congress require state Attorneys General to investigate what does not interest them, but does interest the majority party of the House?  Even to suggest these things is to see the strong barrier of state sovereignty.” 

  • Exxon knew

The efforts by companies like ExxonMobil to shield scientific evidence regarding fossil fuel’s impact on climate change from both their corporate shareholders and the public at large, and their simultaneous efforts to fund anti-climate change organizations, all at a time they had clear scientific evidence of the impact fossil fuel emissions were having on the climate as far back as the 1970s may constitute fraud.

“State Attorneys General have conducted legitimate investigations of possible fraud under state laws for as long as these offices have existed. The investigation of ExxonMobil is no different than thousands of others in years past and has been initiated for the public good and in the public interest. If the fraudulent speech of Big Tobacco was worthy of an investigation almost thirty years ago, then potentially fraudulent speech of ExxonMobil is worthy of a closer look as well. Plain and simple. It is absolutely critical to the integrity of this committee that the Majority abandon their unprecedented political investigation of state officials trying to do their job and protect the public health of our nation,” said Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY).

114th Congress