Attorneys General, Republicans Spar Over Climate Probes

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By Ben Remaly

June 21 — Several state attorneys general characterized as “inaccurate” allegations by House Republicans that climate change probes into fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil are politically motivated even as the representatives seek additional investigation records.

Republicans in the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee sent another round of letters to 17 attorneys general who have banded together to address climate change, asking the state officials for additional details about their activities. House Republicans led by Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in the latest batch of letters, released June 20, that the attorneys general have failed to adequately respond to the committee's prior request for details on the climate change efforts.

Attorneys general from California, Massachusetts and Connecticut responded to the initial May 18 letters with written responses of their own in which they refused to provide any documents and said the allegations of collusion from Republicans on the House Science Committee were “inaccurate” and without basis.

“We will continue to do our job, which is to investigate and take action as appropriate. Our office will not be intimidated by oil industry-backed members of the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Cyndi Roy Gonzalez, communications director for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, in a June 20 e-mail to Bloomberg BNA.

Attorneys general from Massachusetts, California and New York led the efforts to subpoena records from Exxon showing, as these states contend, the company deceived investors by downplaying its own scientists' research into the effects of climate change.

Massachusetts defended its investigation of Exxon for fraud in its response to the House Science Committee.

“Despite Exxon's early understanding of the science of climate change and the threats posed by climate change to human populations and global ecosystems, other publicly available documents suggest that Exxon may have participated in later self-interested efforts to mislead the public, including investors and consumers, with respect to the impacts of climate change in order to defeat governmental policy measures designed to address the threat of climate change,” said Richard A. Johnston, chief legal counsel at Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, said in the June 2 letter to the House Science Committee obtained by Bloomberg BNA.

Letters Sent to ‘Intimidate.'

The latest round of letters from House Republicans acknowledged they received responses from 16 of 17 offices of the attorneys general, but contend Connecticut did not respond to the committee's first letter. The initial letters were signed by 13 House Republicans while the letters sent June 17 were signed by 17 of 22 current Republican members of the House Science Committee.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen's office said it did respond to the committee's letter and provided Bloomberg BNA with a copy of its May 27 response.

The letter, signed by Jepsen, says Connecticut has not participated in or announced any investigation into fossil fuel companies such as Exxon and says that the purpose of the House Committee's letter is a move “perhaps to intimidate this office or others from doing so.”

California's response, issued May 27, said the House Science Committee had “lack of jurisdiction” to ask for materials involved with the states' investigation as it is a state, not federal manner according to the letter obtained by Bloomberg BNA from the office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Remaly in Washington at bremaly@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com