Bizzaro World: Science Committee Pushing Exxon Agenda
June 2, 2016
This is a complicated, developing story, but if you’ve been following the videos, you know at least the most important fundamentals.
New documents show Exxon oil executives were briefed by their own scientists as far back as the 1970s, that climate change was real, caused by humans, and would demand definitive action within a decade. Exxon eventually chose not only to ignore the science, but actively support groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Heartland Institute, who deliberately lied, dissembled, distorted and obfuscated the science – deceiving not only citizens and policy makers, but – critically – Exxon’s own shareholders.
This deception of investors is the target of current investigations being pursued by several state Attorney Generals. And, predictably, the issue is being spun completely on it’s head, lead by right wing media and the House “Science” Committee.
The operative memes are “first amendment”, and “free speech” – the perverse application of which we saw when Tobacco industry executives defended their right to lie under oath to Congress – an interpretation that the energy industry defended at the time. – perhaps anticipating a time like this.
In this fun-house version of the constitution, telling people the poison you’re selling them is perfectly safe – is “free speech” – and lying to legal authorities about it is “protected”.
What’s not protected, in bizarro world, is citizen’s right to organize and defend themselves against this kind of activity.
The battle over Exxon Mobil and the issue of climate change took a new turn Wednesday.
Environmental groups, citing constitutional rights, said they would not comply with a sweeping request for information from the House Committee on Space, Science and Technology led by Chairman Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex.).
The environmental groups and foundations said the request was unreasonably broad, violated their rights to free speech and free assembly, and interfered with their right to petition government officials.
On May 18, Smith’s committee had asked for any communications that might show that eight leading environmental groups and nonprofit foundations — along with the attorneys general from about 20 states — had coordinated a legal strategy to uncover internal information about climate change that they allege Exxon Mobil had concealed for decades. Smith also asked for communications between environmental groups related to state investigations into Exxon Mobil and whether the oil giant had violated securities and consumer fraud laws.
The environmental groups don’t think the committee is entitled to see that communication.
“In a democracy built on principles and the rule of law, 350.org cannot in good faith comply with an illegitimate government request that encroaches so fundamentally on its and its colleagues’ protected constitutional rights,” said a letter sent Wednesday from the group’s law firm, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
The Smith letter appeared to be part of a tit-for-tat after state attorneys general sought old Exxon Mobil documents related to climate.
The environmental groups and foundations have been openly pressing state prosecutors to investigate whether Exxon Mobil had violated securities and consumer fraud laws by not fully disclosing what it knew about climate change and its potential impact on the company’s business as well as the planet.
The oil giant has asserted that it did not violate disclosure requirements and that much of what it knew was publicly available in scientific papers.
“The Committee is concerned that these efforts to silence speech are based not on sound legal or scientific arguments, but rather on a long-term strategy developed by political activist organizations,” Smith said in his May 18 letter to the groups. The letter, signed by a dozen other Republicans on the panel, said the committee feared that environmental groups were part of a “coordinated attempt to deprive companies” of their First Amendment rights and impair their ability to fund scientific research “free from intimidation and threats of prosecution.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has also joined the fray, demanding in a May 25 letter signed by four other GOP senators that the Justice Department halt any investigations of whether Exxon Mobil properly disclosed views on climate issues. The Justice Department has not said whether it is conducting such an investigation.
The environmental and nonprofit groups say Smith and Cruz are turning the issue on its head. Abbe David Lowell, the lawyer for Greenpeace, noted the “irony” that Smith’s committee, in the name of protecting Exxon Mobil’s free speech, would “examine” the free speech of environmental groups.
Quinn Emanuel, which also wrote a response for the Rockefeller Family Fund, said that courts have not supported forced disclosure of communications within advocacy groups. It quoted a decision in one case that said: “Implicit in the right to associate with others to advance one’s shared political beliefs is the right to exchange ideas and formulate strategy and messages, and to do so in private. Compelling disclosure of internal campaign communications can chill the exercise of these rights.”
A letter from the Union of Concerned Scientists said that while the committee said it was acting in the name of “transparency,” the Supreme Court has said that “there is no general authority to expose the private affairs of individuals without justification in terms of the functions of the Congress … [n]or is the Congress a law enforcement or trial agency.”
Below, text from the 1987 ad in defense of Tobacco’s “Free Speech”, from Mobil (emphasis added).
Free speech is under assault
A basic tenet of our system requires free, unfettered speech to sustain a robust and open marketplace of ideas — a marketplace in which even unpopular views may be espoused and considered. If any groups or opinions are excluded, the marketplace becomes distorted and the right to be heard is weakened for all of us.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with various opinions on smoking or gambling, for example, all points of view have the right to be heard — particularly when the acts involved are perfectly legal. Indeed, even if certain acts are illegal — as the sale of alcohol was during Prohibition — those who favor a change in the law should have the right to voice their opinions. If they lose that right, how would laws ever get changed?
Until recently, little doubt existed about First Amendment protections for free speech. Corporations were felt to have as much right as individualsto advertise their views on public issues — the U.S. Supreme Court said they did in 1978 in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti. Even “commercial speech” — advertising a product — has First Amendment protection, other decisions held, so long as the ads meet certain condition such as making no claims that are factually false or misleading.
But now, political and commercial speech by business is threatened, and First Amendment guarantees seem weakened:
· A Federal Trade Commission complaint last Spring sought to prevent R.J. Reynolds Company from running further advertisements like the one titled “Of cigarettes and science.” That ad, in national publications, was alleged by the FTC to be “misleading,” even though it did not push any of the company’s cigarette brands or encourage smoking. In the format of a newspaper editorial, it simply contended that a $115 million federal research study failed to prove conclusively any link between cigarettes and heart disease. “We do not claim this study proves that smoking doesn’t cause heart disease,” the ad said, only that “the controversy over smoking and health remains an open one.”