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Policy

Congressional panel battles over subpoenas of scientists

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
September 19, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 37

A sharply divided House of Representatives panel on science last week fought over its own investigatory powers, including probes aimed at scientists. In July, the committee subpoenaed communications between eight science and environmental organizations and the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts. The attorneys general are investigating whether ExxonMobil committed fraud by publicly downplaying risks of climate change for decades after corporate scientists warned company officials about these risks in the 1970s. Committee Republicans say subpoenas are needed to determine if the states’ investigation will damage federal research. Democrats say the subpoenas are inappropriately interfering in the states’ probes. The groups and the attorneys general have refused to comply and committee Republicans have threatened to hold them in contempt of Congress. Since taking over the chairmanship of the committee in 2013, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has initiated several investigations of climate change science and scientists, sparking concern among scientific organizations, including the American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN.

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