ALBANY, N.Y. – The New York and Massachusetts attorneys general are refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas seeking records about their investigations into whether Exxon Mobil misled investors about man-made climate change.
In an escalating political fight over global warming, the chairman of the House Science Committee is pursuing records from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, along with nine environmental, scientific and philanthropic organizations.
In a reply Tuesday to Texas GOP Rep. Lamar Smith, Schneiderman’s lawyer called the July 13 subpoena “an unprecedented effort” bringing them “closer to a protracted, unnecessary legal confrontation.”
Counsel Leslie Dubeck wrote that enforcing the subpoena will interfere with Schneiderman’s investigation into whether Dallas-based Exxon violated New York fraud statutes. They have objections challenging the subpoena’s validity and “cannot and will not comply with it,” he wrote.
“Congress’ authority ends where states’ sovereign rights begin,” Dubeck wrote.
In a similar letter Tuesday, Healey declined to comply with the subpoena. Her chief counsel Richard Johnston wrote that it’s “an unconstitutional and unwarranted interference with a legitimate ongoing state investigation.”
Smith responded that the committee was disappointed and will use all its available tools to further its investigation. He didn’t specify what he will do.
The chairman accused the attorneys general of chilling scientific free speech with their investigations. Two weeks ago, joined by several other Republican members of the panel, Smith said the Democratic attorneys general had refused to give them previously requested information to which they are entitled.
“The committee has a responsibility to protect First Amendment rights of companies, academic institutions, scientists and non-profit organizations,” Smith said. “That is why the committee is obligated to ask for information from the attorneys general and others.”
Dubeck requested an opportunity to discuss the committee Republicans’ requests, along with the participation of its Democratic members. Johnston asked Smith withdraw the subpoena or refer it to the entire science committee for review.
In November, Schneiderman’s office subpoenaed Exxon documents following a yearlong review of shareholder disclosures. New York’s attorney general has authority under the state’s Martin Act to investigate and prosecute securities fraud.
Massachusetts filed its formal request for Exxon documents in April. “Despite its research and knowledge, Exxon appears to have engaged with other fossil fuel interests in a campaign from at least the 1990s onward to prevent government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Johnston wrote.
The company has rejected allegations it suppressed its climate change research, saying it has conducted nearly 40 years of research publicly in conjunction with federal and United Nations officials, issued nearly 150 papers and obtained nearly 300 patents for technological advances in cutting emissions and for years provided shareholders with information about the business risks of climate change.
The House committee in May first sent letters to Schneiderman and 16 other attorneys general accusing them of chilling free speech “by those who question climate change orthodoxy.” The state officials had announced a co-ordinated effort two months earlier to explore legal ways to combat global warming by filing lawsuits and briefs or by opening environmental, consumer or financial probes.
This story has been corrected to show that Schneiderman’s lawyer called the subpoena “an unprecedented effort,” not “an unprecedented manoeuvr.”