House Panel Holds Hearing on Its Power to Investigate New York and Massachusetts AGs

On Wednesday (September 14, 2016), the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing on the Committee’s efforts to subpoena documents from the New York and Massachusetts attorneys general, Greenpeace, Union of Concerned Scientists, and other environmental groups, who launched a campaign to subpoena climate science- and policy-related documents from ExxonMobil and various conservative (“skeptic”) groups.

Concerned the AGs’ investigation is a strategy to intimidate and punish political opponents, the Committee over a period of months sent “correspondence and requests for voluntary cooperation and information from two state attorneys general and several environmental groups,” according to Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

“After these requests were stonewalled, on July 13, 2016, the Committee issued subpoenas for information that relates to the origin of state investigations into scientific research conducted by non-profit organizations, private companies, and individual scientists,” Smith said in his opening statement.

Predictably, the environmental groups who egged on the AGs to investigate ExxonMobil and organizations like the Competitive Enterprise Institute because of their climate policy positions now claim that Smith’s investigation infringes their rights of speech and association. The AGs, for their part, claim Smith’s investigation violates the 10th amendment.

All four testimonies are worth reading, especially that of George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley. Turley provides a meticulous defense of the Committee’s investigation and has the added bonus of being above suspicion as politically motivated. Turley has long been an “advocate for action in combating climate change” who agrees with President Obama that “failure to take such action will have dire consequences for our country.”

Turley’s basic argument is that Congress has the power to investigate any subject within the scope of its constitutional authority to legislate, as long as the questions it asks are pertinent to the exercise of that authority. That is clearly the case here. Congress has the power to legislate in matters of climate research, energy policy, and civil rights. The Committee’s subpoenas are narrowly targeted to obtain only information pertinent to those concerns.

Two excerpts from the testimony should be widely shared with the candid world:

“The House subpoena is the model of brevity in comparison to some of these sweeping demands [by the AGs], which directly threaten free speech, academic freedom, and the right of association. In addition, these subpoenas targeting communications with conservative public interest groups were part of a criminal justice investigation seeking to support felony charges rather than a congressional investigation simply seeking possible information for legislative action. The environmental groups (which supported these intrusive demands involving other public interest groups) would need to explain how such investigatory demands are appropriate for the Executive Branch but somehow barred to the Legislative Branch.”

“I assume that most people would want Congress to investigate the use of state powers to unleash a new McCarthy-like campaign or to harass experts based on their scientific judgment. The Committee has a myriad of legitimate institutional interests affected by such a campaign ranging from the interference with federal research to the impact on federal programs in the areas of energy and the environment.”