Blue States Urge House to End Meddling on Exxon Climate Probes

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  • Republicans demanding A.G. e-mails with environmentalists
  • Massachusetts, N.Y. are probing possible climate misstatements

More than a dozen Democratic state attorneys general urged House Republicans to end their legal fight with New York and Massachusetts over the states’ probes into whether Exxon Mobil Corp.’s public statements about climate change misled investors.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his Massachusetts counterpart, Maura Healey, have been investigating whether Exxon violated state securities and consumer-protection laws by failing to disclose what they knew about the possible financial impact of climate change. The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which seeks to derail the probes, subpoenaed the pair on Feb. 16, demanding detailed information about their investigations. They were given a March 2 deadline.

The "unprecedented" subpoenas overstep the committee’s constitutional authority and trample the rights of states to carry out investigations without interference from the federal government, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a letter Tuesday to the committee’s chairman, Texas Republican Lamar Smith.

"Recent events have markedly increased the demand for state attorneys general to be vigilant and diligent in investigating and enforcing state laws, particularly state laws that protect consumers, their health and safety, and the environment," Frosh said in the letter.

Smith and other Republicans argue the probes were started in "bad faith" because the attorneys general had reached their conclusions before the investigations started after extensive meetings with environmentalists. They argue the probes threaten to hinder research by scientists who disagree that humans cause climate change.

A spokeswoman for Smith’s committee said they hadn’t received the letter. Alan Jeffers, an Exxon spokesman, declined to comment.

Climate Impact

Schneiderman and Healey refused last year to comply with an earlier set of subpoenas, which expired with the last Congress. Since then, the dynamics of the dispute have shifted dramatically, with Donald Trump succeeding Barack Obama as president, and former Exxon Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson becoming the country’s top diplomat.

Tuesday’s letter was also signed by the attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. They argue the legitimacy of the state probes has been demonstrated in court rulings in favor of Schneiderman and Healey, as well as Exxon’s production of more than 2.5 million documents as part of the New York probe.

Healey and Schneiderman are investigating whether Irving, Texas-based Exxon discovered decades ago that human behavior is causing a rise in global temperatures, and then lied for years to investors and the public about the potential impact on the company’s bottom line. They also seek to determine if Exxon’s untapped reserves of oil and natural gas were valued properly in financial filings in light of recent drops in prices.

Smith’s committee demanded an array of documents from Schneiderman and Healey, including internal e-mails relating to Obama’s environmental initiatives, notes about a happy hour arranged to discuss climate issues and communications with environmentalists including former Vice President Al Gore and billionaire Tom Steyer.

Exxon for months has been fighting in state courts in Massachusetts and New York, as well as in federal court in Texas, to block the two probes. In January, Exxon lost a bid to block a subpoena by Healey as part of her investigation. The company also lost out on an effort to force Healey to fly to Dallas to be deposed in court by Exxon’s lawyers.

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