Monday, October 03, 2016

House science committee seeks answers in SEC’s Exxon investigation

By Joanne Cursinella, J.D.

Texas Republican Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, has sent a letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White requesting relevant information concerning the SEC’s investigation into Exxon Mobile Corporation. The committee is “troubled” by press accounts that the investigation is “couched” in terms relating to the science of climate change. Smith is therefore requesting documentation from the SEC to evaluate the purpose, scope, and origin of the investigation.

Multiple investigations. According to the letter, the Commission’s Exxon investigation, dating from at least August of 2016, has been directly linked by the media to the Commission’s “far-reaching” inquiry into New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s own investigation into Exxon under state securities fraud law. The committee itself is currently investigating the New York attorney general’s Exxon probe in order to assess the adverse effects his investigation might pose to the scientific research and development enterprise.

The House committee, which has jurisdiction over energy and environmental research, has an obligation to see that such research advances the American scientific enterprise to the fullest extent possible free from threat of intimidation or prosecution. Smith points out the attorney general’s investigation has so far failed to discover any wrongdoing by Exxon.

According to the letter, the committee is concerned that the SEC’s actions in “wielding its enforcement authority” against companies like Exxon for its collection and reliance on climate data used to value its assets may have a negative effect on conducting climate change research. Further, to the extent that the SEC's investigation was initiated in reliance on the New York attorney general’s investigation, Smith is concerned that the Commission’s actions may ”serve to illustrate the very effects on free scientific inquiry” that the committee is investigating.

Document request. In order to aid the committee in evaluating the Commission’s investigation into Exxon’s activities, the committee has requested documents dating back to January 2015 in four specific categories be produced by October 13.