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Leon Kaye headshot

Climate Science Witch Hunt Continues in Congress, NGOs Push Back Hard

By Leon Kaye

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is leading what NGOs call a McCarthyite investigation of government agencies, state attorneys general and, now, nonprofits. These stakeholders have one thing in common: They're working to research ExxonMobil’s alleged climate deception.

Rep. Smith who chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, stridently defends ExxonMobil against such investigations. And he has in turn demanded documents from eight nonprofits and 17 attorneys general for a committee review of how they collaborated. Those involved with investigation of the oil giant, along with researchers at government agencies including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), say that such requests amount to harassment as they make it impossible for their organizations to do any work at all.

Greenpeace USA and 350.org are now refusing to cooperate with Smith. Describing the congressman’s subpoenas as “vague and over-reaching,” both said they are open to further discussion with the committee, but have only replied with a huge no to requests for submission of any and all documents and emails.

The groups were joined by the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts, who invoked states’ rights in their refusal to cooperate with Smith and his fellow Republicans on the science committee. Liberal firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also jumped into the fray, accusing Smith and the committee of preventing Massachusetts Attorney Aeneral Maura Healy from doing her daily job. Reacting to Smith’s onslaught of subpoenas, Warren sniffed: “You picked a fight with the wrong state.”

The fight also ensnared what Smith describes as “environmental activist” organizations. “We've offered time again to meet with the Committee to discuss our concerns, but they're only interested in seizing our internal documents and emails,” said May Boeve, 350.org executive director, in a written statement. “We've got nothing to hide, but this McCarthy-like overreach sets a dangerous precedent.”

Smith has issued more subpoenas during his three-year tenure as chair than it the committee issued during its previous 54 years of existence, Greenpeace and 350.org pointed out. That flurry of litigious activity also corresponds with what the organizations say is a total of $675,000 in donations from energy companies to Smith's political campaigns since 1998.

If the saying, “never let a serious crisis go to waste” holds true, then Smith may have given these organizations a gift that keeps on giving. Greenpeace has turned the committee’s subpoenas into an opportunity to launch a fundraising drive. Both organizations have also leveraged Smith’s actions into a campaign to raise awareness about what they say is ExxonMobil’s five-decade record of suppressed information related to climate science.

Do not expect Smith’s vendetta against environmental groups to end any time soon. Smith responded yesterday to the NGOs' refusal to cooperate with his committee’s investigation, saying he is “disappointed.” But he hinted that the subpoenas will keep on coming. “The Committee will consider using all tools at its disposal to further its investigation,” Smith retorted in a press release.

Image credit: NASA/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye