Whitehouse takes Exxon fight to GOP chairman’s Texas turf

Source: Benjamin Hulac, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) spends many Mondays on the Senate floor, talking about the dangers of climate change.

Yesterday, he took his presentation to Austin, Texas, where he sharply criticized Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) for his decision to subpoena New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) for documents from their investigations into Exxon Mobil Corp.

“Rep. Smith is not just here doing something unprecedented to obstruct state officials in the performance of their duties, he’s doing it on behalf of the very subject of their investigation,” Whitehouse said in a brief speech from the state house.

In an emailed statement, Smith said his committee is working to “preserve scientific freedom” and is within its jurisdiction.

“Senator Whitehouse’s comments are just environmental activists’ talking points,” Smith said. “It is still shocking that the attorneys general and environmental leftists are continuing in their refusal to comply with legally issued subpoenas.”

Schneiderman and Healey have for months been probing Exxon Mobil about what and when company officials knew about the risks of climate change and whether the oil giant mislead investors and the public about those risks.

In July, Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, subpoenaed the attorneys general and several environmental advocacy groups, arguing the groups had colluded to corner Exxon Mobil.

Smith says the investigations infringe upon the free speech rights of people, companies and scientists to disagree about global warming. Whitehouse yesterday argued free speech rights don’t give a company the right to deceive, adding that the New York and Massachusetts inquiries are meant to root out fraud.

The senator’s speech was the latest event in the back-and-forth saga between Democrats and Republicans, and environmentalists and energy companies, regarding the fossil fuel industry’s policies to address climate change.

Late last month, Exxon Mobil confirmed the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating its accounting practices.

The SEC probe is said to focus on whether Exxon Mobil has appropriately written down — lowered the value of — its assets due to climate change regulations and the slumping oil price.

After the SEC investigation became public, Smith swiftly wrote a letter to the head of the SEC. He said his committee was “troubled” the agency was looking into Exxon Mobil.

Later that same day, Sept. 29, Whitehouse issued his own statement.

“Is there a hotline between Exxon Mobil’s legal department and House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith?” he said. “The instant Exxon is faced with a new investigation over its climate mischief, Chairman Smith springs into action.”