What Media Should Know About The House Science Committee Members Defending Exxon

Thirteen Republican members of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, led by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), are wrongly accusing 17 attorneys general and eight environmentally focused organizations of trying to “silence speech” by ExxonMobil and other companies that may have intentionally misled shareholders and the public about climate change. Media coverage of the committee members’ actions should note that they have taken a combined $3.4 million from the fossil fuel industry -- and that all 13 members have received money directly from Exxon. Moreover, Smith has a track record of baselessly attacking climate scientists, and the committee members announced their efforts on the same day that Exxon-funded fronts groups made the same deceptive “free speech” allegation in a full-page ad in The New York Times.

House Science Committee Members Wrongly Accuse Attorneys General And Environmentally Focused Groups Of Trying To “Silence Speech”

Committee Members Claim Attorneys General Are Trying To “Deprive” Exxon And Other Companies Of “First Amendment Rights.” The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology announced in a May 18 press release that 13 of its members had sent letters requesting documents from “17 state attorneys general and eight environmental activist organizations” related to their “coordinated efforts to deprive companies, nonprofit organizations, scientists and scholars of their First Amendment rights.” The press release added that the letters state that the committee is “concerned that these efforts to silence speech are based on political theater rather than legal or scientific arguments.” The letters went to the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington. The committee also sent letters to 350.org; the Climate Accountability Institute; the Climate Reality Project; Greenpeace; Pawa Law Group, P.C.; the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; the Rockefeller Family Fund; and the Union of Concerned Scientists. After many of the targeted attorneys general and organizations stated that they were refusing to comply with the committee members’ request, Smith and the other committee members “doubl[ed] down” on their demand for documents from the attorneys general on June 17, as The Hill reported. [House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology press release, 5/18/16; 5/18/16; 5/18/16; 6/17/16; InsideClimate News, 6/2/16; The Hill, 6/20/16]

AGs Are Actually Investigating Whether Exxon Intentionally Deceived The Public To Protect Its Profits. Contrary to the House science committee members’ claims, the attorneys general are seeking to determine whether Exxon and other companies knew the reality of climate change but publicly sowed doubt about climate science in order to protect their profits. Reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed that Exxon’s own scientists had confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterward. This has prompted the attorneys general in New York, California, Massachusetts, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to each launch investigations into the Exxon scandal. Most recently, an even larger coalition of attorneys general has committed to holding fossil fuel companies, including Exxon, accountable if they obfuscated climate change research in order to protect their financial interests. The outside groups are being targeted because they participated in a series of meetings about holding fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change, beginning with a 2012 workshop in La Jolla, CA. But as The New York Times noted, contrary to claims by the science committee members and other Exxon defenders that the groups are engaged in a conspiracy, a 36-page report about the workshop has long been “readily available online,” and “groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists have been open about their collaboration and consultation with attorneys general.” [Media Matters, 3/11/16; Media Matters, 3/15/16; Los Angeles Times, 10/23/15; InsideClimate News, 9/16/15; 3/2/16; U.S. News & World Report, 3/29/16; InsideClimate News, 3/30/16; U.S. News & World Report, 3/29/16; The New York Times, 5/23/16]

House Science Committee Members Defending Exxon Have Received Millions From Fossil Fuel Industry -- And All 13 Took Money Directly From Exxon

The 13 Science Committee Members Defending Exxon Have Received Over $3.4 Million From The Fossil Fuel Industry, Including Over $126,000 From Exxon. The House science committee letters were signed by the following members: Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Vice Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX), Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI), Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), and Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA). Together, these members of Congress have received $3,411,173 in career contributions from the oil and gas, coal mining, and electric utilities industries, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Moreover, all 13 committee members have received money directly from Exxon, totaling $126,020. Committee Chairman Lamar Smith and Vice Chairman Frank Lucas have each received over $760,000 from the fossil fuel industry and at least $15,000 from Exxon. [Media Matters, 6/21/16]

DeSmogBlog: Past And Present Smith Staffers Also Have Ties To Exxon. In a June 21 article, DeSmogBlog noted that several “people working for Smith, both past and present,” have ties to Exxon:

Lamar Smith's senior legislative aide, Scott Ferguson, went on two trips funded by the American Exploration and Production Council, one in 2014 and one in 2015. One of the Council's members is XTO Energy, the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)-focused subsidiary of ExxonMobil.


Smith's former communications director, Sally-Shannon Birkel, now serves as senior manager of media relations for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is funded by both the [Koch brothers] and ExxonMobil.


Another former Smith communications director, Brad Bennett, left Smith's office and eventually transitioned into gigs at both Hill and Knowlton (a PR firm with roots in tobacco industry denial tactics which did PR on behalf of America's Natural Gas Alliance, ANGA) and DCI Group, the latter of which has key Exxon ties and was subpoenaed in April by the Attorney General of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Attorneys General probe. [DeSmogBlog, 6/21/16]

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith Harassed And Falsely Attacked Climate Scientists

The Guardian’s John Abraham: Smith Is A “Climate Scientist Witch Hunter.” In October, Smith requested internal communications from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and baselessly alleged that NOAA was manipulating temperature records to show a warming trend. In reality, NOAA had already made the data Smith was challenging available to the public online, and the agency routinely makes adjustments to historical temperature records that are peer-reviewed and necessary to account for changes to measuring instruments and other factors. Smith’s attacks on NOAA prompted The Guardian’s John Abraham to describe Smith as a “climate scientist witch hunter” who “harasse[d] scientists who debunked a favorite denier argument.” [Media Matters, 11/3/15; The Guardian, 11/11/15]

Exxon-Funded Front Groups Joined Science Committee To Simultaneously Attack Attorneys General

Front Groups Authored Front-Page NY Times Ad With Same Spurious “First Amendment” Claims. On the same day that the House science committee announced the actions of the 13 committee members, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) sponsored a full-page ad in The New York Times alleging that the attorneys general seeking to hold fossil fuel companies accountable intend to “silence the speech of more than 100 businesses, nonprofits, and private individuals who question the AGs’ positions on climate change.” CEI claimed that the ad “features signatures from 43 organizations, legal experts, and individuals who value Americans’ First Amendment rights and believe they should be protected.” However, according to The New York Times, the Climate Investigations Center (CIC) has documented that CEI received “about $2 million” from Exxon during the time period when Exxon was “funding organizations that undercut climate science.” In total, CIC reported that the ad’s signers have “received $10.1 Million dollars from Exxon, ExxonMobil and the ExxonMobil Foundation from 1997 through 2014,” including “over $2.2 Million in climate-specific funding from Exxon.” CIC also noted that “several of the signatories were part of the infamous” 1998 Global Climate Science Communications Team, which “crafted a multimillion dollar plan to challenge the ‘conventional wisdom’ of climate science and replace it with ‘uncertainty.’” [Competitive Enterprise Institute, 5/18/16; The New York Times, 6/16/16; Climate Investigations Center, 5/19/16]  

Note: Media Matters' Climate and Energy Program has received funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, one of the foundations targeted by the House science committee members.