Washington (June 1, 2016)—In a letter sent today to Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) refused to provide documents in response to his request for correspondence with other organizations and state attorneys general about whether various fossil fuel companies misled the public about climate change. This demand infringes on the First Amendment rights of private organizations and exceeds the authority of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, according to UCS.
“Chairman Smith’s letter makes no claim that UCS has violated any law or regulation. Instead, Chairman Smith seeks governmental “oversight” over UCS’s exercise of our core First Amendment right to petition the government to take action on the urgent threat of climate change,” said Ken Kimmell, the president of UCS. “Not only is our activity well within our rights, but Chairman Smith’s request oversteps his committee’s jurisdiction.”
“The law is clear—this inquiry goes well beyond the power granted to Congressional committees,” Kimmell said. “This kind of open-ended investigation is an abuse of power, and we are standing up to it to avoid setting a precedent that could have a chilling effect on scientists, or anyone else, exercising their right to speak out about any vital issue.”
Chairman Smith demanded a broad variety of documents, including communications between UCS staff and state attorneys general as well as other groups or individuals, related to climate change. The Supreme Court has made clear, however, that congressional committees do not have the authority to carry out investigations of private individuals “for the sake of exposure,” and that investigations can be carried out only “in aid of the legislative function.” The committee’s request for documents from UCS does not meet this standard. Instead, it seems to be designed to derail ongoing attorneys general investigations of whether ExxonMobil violated state laws by misleading the public and shareholders about climate risks.
“Notwithstanding this committee’s overreach, we are committed to reducing the risk of climate change,” Kimmell said. “We will continue to exercise our First Amendment rights, and provide state prosecutors with the best available science and scholarship on climate change and the responsibilities of major fossil fuel producers.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe and sustainable future. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org.