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House Science Committee Bearing Down on State AG Probe of ExxonMobil

The House Committee on Space, Science and Technology is stepping up its fight against state attorneys general (AG) who are probing ExxonMobil Corp.'s research into climate change, with a hearing planned in mid-September to review the wide-reaching investigation.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who leads the committee, has scheduled a Sept. 14 hearing regarding the probe, initially launched last fall by New York AG Eric Schneiderman (see Daily GPINov. 6, 2015). The investigation has since escalated, with the GOP-led House committee seeking jurisdiction over the state inquiries into whether the supermajor misled the public over decades about the impact of fossil fuels on the environment (see Daily GPIJune 22). In July Smith subpoenaed Schneiderman, Massachusetts AG Maura Healey and eight environmental organizations, demanding related documents, but the parties have refused to comply citing constitutional grounds (see Daily GPIJuly 18).

"The hearing will examine Congress' investigative authority as it relates to the committee's oversight of the impact of investigations undertaken by the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts at the behest of several environmental organizations,” the committee said in a notice. "Specifically, the hearing will explore the validity of the committee's current inquiry in the context of Congress' broad oversight authority, as defined by legal precedent.”

Three law professors now are slated to testify: Jonathan Turley of The George Washington University Law School; Ronald D. Rotunda, Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law; and Elizabeth Price Foley, Florida International University College of Law. Foley wrote that the state AG subpoena requests "easily fall within Congress' legislative and oversight competence."

Democrats led by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas are expected to call witnesses as well.

The subpoena requests "violate New York's sovereignty and fundamental principles of federalism," Schneiderman's spokesman said. The ExxonMobil investigation is confidential, he added.

In response to the scheduled House hearing, environmental group 350.org's communications director Jamie Henn said Smith's committee "should take on ExxonMobil as a corporate sponsor..." The company is "certainly the money and influence behind it. Rep. Smith has zero authority or cause to subpoena us, the attorneys general, or any other groups looking to uncover the truth about Exxon's climate lies. Maybe instead of this buffoonery, the House Science committee could call on, you know, a scientist, to re-explain the threat of climate change and the role of the fossil fuel industry in causing the crisis. Rep. Smith sounds like he could use a refresher course."

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