Rep. Smith Expands His Climate Change Inquisition

Melting Glacier

There was an article in the New York Times on May 23 about developments in a story I’ve been following and writing about here. To recap: There are allegations that Exxon Mobile deliberately misled the public about the impact of fossil fuel burning on the climate, and New York’s Attorney General opened an investigation to determine what Exxon Mobile was telling the public, and whether that was consistent with what the company’s own scientists were reporting from their research. If Exxon Mobile knew that the burning of fossil fuels was contributing to a warming climate, but was telling the public that science was inconclusive on the mater, they were deceiving not only the public, but shareholders.

In April, I noted that more states were joining in the investigation.

Now, The New York Times reports that shareholders are beginning to question whether Exxon Mobil is being realistic in assessing the growth in demand for oil. Shareholders want the company to consider the impact of policy changes that may be enacted to slow the pace of climate change. These concerns are being expressed not just by small activist investors, but by large institutions such as the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, New York City’s pension fund, and the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, according to The Times. These shareholders have demanded a vote at the company’s annual meeting on a resolution calling for Exxon Mobile to publish an annual assessment of the impact of various climate change policies.

Smith Expands His Inquisition

Meanwhile, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chair of the House Science Committee, has expanded his inquisition of government climate scientists and administrators to include the state attorneys general who are investigating Exxon Mobile. Smith and the other Republicans on the Science Committee sent a letter to the attorneys general of New York and other states demanding “documents and communications” between each Office of Attorney General and scientists and staff of organizations concerned about climate change. Smith’s rationale for this fishing expedition is to protect “the First Amendment rights of American citizens and their ability to fund and conduct scientific research free from intimidation and threats of prosecution.” The letter also characterizes the investigation by the attorneys general as “political theater.”

That’s pretty amusing, since the Congressional hearings Smith is conducting to investigate NOAA and its scientists and administrators is designed to create a chilling effect on the climate research done by that government agency. Smith’s investigation is nothing but political theater, since it certainly does not seek to obtain the best information about climate change, with the goal to devise policies to help our country cope.

A perfectly reasonable response, in my view, would be for the attorneys general to demand that Smith and his Republican colleagues release all “documents and communications” between committee members and climate change denier organizations. Better yet, why don’t they reveal the amount of funds they receive from fossil fuel industries?

Smith’s Political Theater and its Appreciative Audience

On the last point, there is at least some information that is publically available.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Smith and his Republican colleagues on the Science Committee receive quite a tidy sum of money from the oil and gas industries. In the 2013-2014 election cycle, oil and gas industries were the top contributors among all industries to Chairman Smith’s campaign committee and leadership PAC, for a total of $112,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the current election cycle to date, Smith’s campaign committee and leadership PAC have received $83,000 from the oil and gas industries, and these industries are again the top contributors to Chairman Smith.

Members of the Science Committee have received a total of a half million dollars in this election cycle to date—with 84 percent of that amount going to Republican members.

A conclusion one can draw from all of this: Smith’s political theater has a very appreciative audience.

Update: Climate change-related shareholder resolutions were rejected at the Exxon Mobil annual meeting, except one that will allow minority shareholders to nominate outsiders for seats on the board.

Image: “Mitchellfossen” by Flickr user Dru is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0