- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The House Science Committee’s feud with Democratic climate prosecutors escalated Tuesday as the chairman said Tuesday that the investigation into climate change “fraud” may be impeding federally funded scientific research.

Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who chairs the committee, defended his July 13 subpoena in a letter to New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who has refused to comply with the committee’s order.

Mr. Schneiderman argued that the panel has no authority to meddle in state investigations, but Mr. Smith countered by citing the potential chilling effect of the probe on federal research.

“The Committee’s goal is to maximize the efficient and effective use of federal tax dollars intended to advance the progress of science without regard to non-scientific considerations such as a fear that certain types of scientifically justified research may lead to costly state investigations and adverse political pressure,” Mr. Smith said in the letter.

Mr. Schneiderman, who leads a coalition of 17 attorneys general using the legal process to combat climate change, has subpoenaed ExxonMobil as part of his investigation into whether the company misled investors and consumers on the impact and extent of global warming.

He and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey told the committee last month that they would refuse to turn over communications related to their investigations, saying the subpoenas constitute federal interference in state law enforcement matters.

“Despite Congressman Smith’s unprecedented attempt to use his committee chairmanship to interfere with an ongoing state law enforcement investigation, our investigation into potential fraud by Exxon will move forward, undeterred,” said Schneiderman spokesman Eric Soufer in a Tuesday statement.

In his letter, Mr. Smith argued that the inquiry is lawful based in part on the potential of the state investigations to chill and distort research, whether funded by the federal government or the business community.

“If businesses believe that the research they fund can be mischaracterized for political or ideological reasons and used to build cases of fraud against the company, they will have a powerful incentive to cease funding that research and instead to direct their funds elsewhere,” Mr. Smith said. “This, in fact, may be your goal.”

He noted that the committee has jurisdiction over National Science Foundation research-and-development grants, which have been awarded in the past to energy companies, including Exxon.

If the state investigations into climate change discourage such research, he said, “it is this committee’s responsibility to identify that imbalance and correct it by directing funding elsewhere.”

The committee’s subpoenas were issued to Mr. Schneiderman and Ms. Healey as well as several environmental groups, which have also refused to comply.

Since its unveiling at a March 29 press conference, the coalition has lost steam in the face of legal challenges from Exxon and heated criticism from Republicans and free-market groups.

The Massachusetts investigation is pending as Ms. Healey fights Exxon’s motion to quash the subpoena, while Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker has withdrawn his subpoenas against Exxon and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Exxon is cooperating with the subpoena issued by New York, which has extraordinary powers beyond those of other states to investigate financial and shareholder fraud under the state’s Martin Act, according to a motion filed earlier this month.

So far the other attorneys general participating in AGs United for Clean Power have not indicated that they are conducting investigations into climate change “fraud.”

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