Energy

‘Appearance Of Collusion’: Top GOP Lawmaker Questions SEC’s Foray Into Global Warming

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

The chairman of a House committee empowered to issue subpoenas is suspicious of the federal government joining an investigation into ExxonMobil’s representation of global warming to shareholders.

“This wasn’t a coincidence, I don’t believe,” Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith told reporters on a Thursday conference call, adding the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) targeting of Exxon has “the appearance of a little bit of collusion.”

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology chairman has been trying to get Democratic attorneys general to comply with congressional subpoenas for documents regarding investigations they launched to see if Exxon mislead investors and the public on global warming.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman spearheaded investigations into Exxon based on reporting by liberal news outlets claiming the company “knew” of the dangers of global warming for decades while funding groups opposed to Democratic climate policies.

Smith subpoenaed Schneiderman and other AGs in July over their Exxon probe, but, so far, none have complied. Now, the SEC is investigating Exxon for similar reasons as Schneiderman, which has Smith suspicious.

“I haven’t seen an agency yet in this administration,” Smith said, “that hasn’t been politicized.”

“That goes for the SEC as well,” he said.

The SEC opened its investigation at an opportune time — AGs from Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands have either given up or slowed down their investigations into Exxon.

Schneiderman has also been heavily criticized for his campaign connections to Exxon opponents, and for seeking support from liberal billionaire Tom Steyer. Steyer has launched his own anti-Exxon efforts.

“That just sort of confirms our suspicions that there is collusion,” Smith said. “That may be the motivation here — that’s not a legitimate motivation.”

Exxon welcomed the SEC’s probe and plans to cooperate, as opposed to Democratic AG investigations, which the company has fought in court. Smith didn’t question the SEC’s authority to investigate, just the regulatory body’s timing in launching a probe into Exxon as Schneiderman’s investigation hits troubled water.

“The SEC is the appropriate entity to examine issues related to impairment, reserves and other communications important to investors,” Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers told The Wall Street Journal.

The SEC is mainly looking at how Exxon internally prices carbon dioxide and applies that number to how future global warming regulations could impacts its business. Exxon reported in 2014 it didn’t expect potential global warming rules to affect its bottom line.

“We are fully complying with the SEC request for information and are confident our financial reporting meets all legal and accounting requirements,” Jeffers said.

Smith said there is one potential upside to the SEC’s involvement in the Exxon probe — it means Schneiderman has less of an argument to ignore his committee’s subpoena.

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