- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2016

The 17 attorneys general pursuing climate change dissenters for accusations of “fraud” want House Republicans to mind their own business. That’s not going to happen.

Seventeen Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee reasserted their right in a Friday letter to conduct oversight on state investigations that represent a threat to the First Amendment and “the free flow of scientific research.”

The letter to the 17 attorneys general — 16 Democrats and one independent — came after several refused to cooperate with a May 18 request by committee Republicans for information related to the coordinated campaign to pursue climate change dissenters, starting with ExxonMobil Corp.

“The House Science Committee’s authority to investigate the concerns raised in my prior letter are grounded in the Constitution and reflected in the rules of the House of Representatives. The Committee strongly disagrees with your contentions,” said the letter, led by committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican.

“The Committee intends to continue its vigorous oversight of the coordinated attempt to deprive companies, nonprofit organizations, and scientists of their First Amendment rights and ability to fund and conduct scientific research free from intimidation and threats of prosecution,” the letter said.

The committee renewed its request for the 17 attorneys general — sometimes called the “Green 20” — to turn over documents related to their campaign, including communications with 10 environmental groups and foundations, by June 24.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who hosted a March 29 press conference to unveil AGs United for Clean Power, declined last month to cooperate with the committee’s investigation, citing the “lack of congressional jurisdiction over state law enforcement activities and the committee’s intrusion into sovereign state actions protected by the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

Climate advocacy groups including Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the RockefellerBrothers Fund have also refused to comply with the panel’s request for information related to their work with the attorneys general.

“The premise of Chairman Smith’s letter is a farce,” UCS President Ken Kimmell said in a May 19 statement. “The attorneys general are not investigating ExxonMobil’s scientific research, but rather whether the company misled shareholders and the public about the dangers of climate change in order to continue profiting from a lucrative product.”

So far, the committee has issued requests only for information, not subpoenas.

In their latest letter, committee Republicans argued that Mr. Schneiderman’s previous statements show that his office will decide what constitutes the “best science” on climate change.

“In essence, you are saying if your office disagrees with whether fossil fuel companies’ scientists were conducting and using ‘the best science,’ the corporation could be held liable for fraud,” said the House committee letter.

“Not only does the possibility exist that such action could have a chilling effect on scientists performing federally funded research, but it also could infringe on the civil rights of scientists who become targets of these inquiries,” the letter said. “Your actions violate the scientists’ First Amendment rights. Congress has a duty to investigate your effort to criminalize scientific dissent.”

The House Republicans also argue that much of the research conducted on climate change under scrutiny by the attorneys general has been funded with federal dollars.

Exxon is fighting subpoenas issued by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker as part of their investigation into whether the company committed fraud by misleading the public on the dangers and extent of climate change.

Mr. Walker withdrew last month a subpoena issued to the Competitive Enterprise Institute as part of his investigation. The free market think tank is slated to appear in court June 28 as part of its effort to seek sanctions against his office.

“The fact that AG Walker walked away from his DC subpoena case against CEI only strengthens our case,” CEI general counsel Sam Kazman said in a Friday statement. “His subpoena was groundless from the outset, and he has no basis for violating our First Amendment rights as well as those of our supporters.”

Republican attorneys general have also entered the fray. In a letter last week, 13 of them urged the coalition to cease its campaign against climate change dissent, arguing in part that it would set a precedent for legal action against climate alarmists.

“If minimization is fraud, exaggeration is fraud,” said the June 15 letter.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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