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Congressional Climate Science Witch Hunt to Start Hearings

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Leadership & Transparency
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The ongoing climate science witch hunt led by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas will morph into a new phase on Sept. 14.

Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, announced a hearing on that date, intended to reaffirm the committee’s authority to issue subpoenas to parties investigating ExxonMobil’s alleged suppression of climate change information. The committee will also discuss recourse for the state attorneys general and NGOs that so far have refused to submit emails and documents requested by subpoena.

Smith’s scheduling of this hearing comes a week after the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts reaffirmed their refusal to cooperate with the committee’s subpoenas.

Experts expected to testify include three law professors:


  • Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, the one "liberal" witness whose legal opinions have been celebrated on Breitbart News and has recently suggested that Donald Trump’s “extreme vetting” policy is legal.

  • Elizabeth Price Foley of Florida International University. Earlier this summer, Foley insisted the “climate prosecutors” including Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) must comply with Smith’s subpoena requests.

  • Chapman University’s Ronald D. Rotunda, who the National Enquirer interviewed about Hillary Clinton’s connection to Daesh (otherwise known as ISIS, ISIL or IS). Rotunda also suggested to Breitbart News that Clinton could nominate President Obama to the Supreme Court.

As of press time, the Democrats on the Science Committee have yet to name any witnesses.

As David Hasemyer of Inside Climate News reported on Wednesday, Foley and Rotunda both publicly criticized the state attorneys general involved in the ExxonMobil investigation. They also have ties to think tanks financed by the fossil fuel sector.

The NGOs primarily involved in this legal tug-of-war, Greenpeace and UCS, remain unimpressed with what appears to be a meeting of right-leaning minds instead of a fair and balanced hearing. Both organizations responded in kind.

“Science Committee Republicans are planning to hold a hearing to determine if the subpoenas they’ve already served are constitutional,” said Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, in a public statement issued on Tuesday. “Shouldn’t they have determined this before creating yet another distraction from bipartisan progress on climate change?”

UCS also made it clear that its executives will not budge.

“From the outset, Chairman Smith has overstepped his authority with this investigation,” UCS President Ken Kimmell wrote in an emailed statement to TriplePundit. “He has consistently mischaracterized our work in repeated, convoluted attempts to justify his efforts.

"It is telling that after issuing broad, unilateral subpoenas, he is now holding a hearing to figure out if his actions are legitimate. However, Chairman Smith stacks this hearing with friendly witnesses; it's clear that he's on shaky legal ground.

"We will continue to stand firm against this abuse of power and defend our First Amendment rights. While our offer to brief the House Science Committee still stands, we will not comply with an unconstitutional subpoena, nor will we stop working to expose misinformation on the science of climate change."


UCS claims it is willing to meet with the committee and that the documents under question are already publicly available on the NGO’s website. Greenpeace has been far less conciliatory, and called Smith out for what it calls his regurgitation of ExxonMobil’s talking points on climate change that are now 20 years old. Another NGO mired in this legal battle, 350.org, dismissed the hearing -- describing it simply as more “buffoonery” on the part of Smith.

The attorneys general who in particular have been the target of Smith’s ire, Maura Healey of Massachusetts and New York’s Eric Schneiderman, also pushed back against the congressman, fomenting the criticism of publications such as the Wall Street Journal. Schneiderman described the subpoenas as violating his state’s sovereignty.

The odds are close to nil that this confrontation will end any time soon as both sides refuse to budge, especially during a presidential election year. But the fact that Smith continues to rack up political donations from the fossil fuel industry also reveals an investigation that, at a minimum, is political posturing and at its worst a crusade against climate science fueled by corruption.

Image credit: Flickr/NASA HQ

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye