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Congressman misses what’s at issue in probes into ExxonMobil

In his Sept. 15 letter “Congressman’s probe intended to protect scientists from government intimidation,” Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, badly misrepresents the facts. He claims he’s protecting scientists from “reprisal” or “harassment,” and preventing state attorneys general from stifling “debate” over climate change.

But there’s no debate being stifled. ExxonMobil scientists’ research concluded what nearly every other scientist has found — fossil fuel use has a dangerous impact on the climate. Those scientists and their research aren’t under scrutiny. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and other state officials are investigating what ExxonMobil executives did in spite of their own scientists’ research. What’s at issue is not mere disagreement, but rather potential fraud of shareholders and consumers.

That Smith seems to be describing an alternative, fictional version of the state inquiries in an attempt to justify his own investigation into the inquiries shows how indefensible his efforts are.


Smith’s claims are especially cynical in light of his subpoenas targeting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers last year over climate findings in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and in light of his targeting of nonprofit groups, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, which have helped expose the ExxonMobil deception about climate science.

As a scientist, and as a citizen, I’m appalled by Smith’s abuse of his power and his questionable justifications for it.

James J. McCarthy, Arlington

The writer is a professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University and is a member of the board of directors of the Union of Concerned Scientists.