Democratic Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Elizabeth Warren express in the strongest terms their objections to Republican efforts to silence state attorneys generals’ investigations of alleged oil company fraud relating to climate change.
So now the attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York are investigating whether ExxonMobil violated state laws by knowingly misleading their residents and shareholders about climate change. Those investigations may be making ExxonMobil executives nervous, and their Republican friends in Congress are riding to the rescue. House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and his fellow committee Republicans have issued subpoenas demanding that the state officials fork over all materials relating to their investigations. They also targeted eight organizations, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Rockefeller Family Fund and Greenpeace, with similar subpoenas, demanding that they turn over internal communications related to what Smith describes as part of “coordinated efforts” to deprive ExxonMobil of its First Amendment rights.
Take a breath to absorb that: State attorneys general are investigating whether a fraud had been committed — 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, 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. So far, both AGs and all eight organizations have refused to comply. We say, good for them.
Let’s call this what it is: a master class in how big corporations rig the system. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Smith has received nearly $685,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry during his career. Now he is using his committee to harass the investigators and bully those who dare bring facts of possible corporate malfeasance to their attention. Undoubtedly, the oil industry wants no further attention, much less court-supervised discovery, into whether it has spent decades deliberately deceiving the public about the harms associated with its product. So here come Smith and his Republican colleagues with threats of legal action designed to sidetrack state investigations and silence groups petitioning the government to address potential wrongdoing.