By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. House of Representatives panel on Wednesday issued subpoenas to the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts to force them to submit information on their investigations into whether Exxon Mobil misled investors on climate change risks, accusing the attorneys general of having a political agenda.
The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology also subpoenaed eight environmental and legal groups.
"The attorneys general have appointed themselves to decide what is valid and what is invalid regarding climate change," committee Chair Lamar Smith, a Republican of Texas, said.
He said the attorneys general are pursuing a political agenda at the expense of scientists’ right to free speech.
The panel has demanded that state attorneys general hand over any records of consultations the prosecutors had with outside environmental groups before their probes were opened.
New York and Massachusetts' top lawyers lead a coalition of 17 state attorneys general who have said they would investigate Exxon and whether its executives misled the public by contradicting research from company scientists that spelled out the threats of global warming.
Smith and Republican members of the House panel have accused the coalition's members of stifling free speech and scientific inquiry by those who do not believe in manmade climate change.
"I don't know what we will find," Smith told reporters. "We might find an intent to intimidate."
So far, New York and Massachusetts have issued subpoenas against Exxon Mobil, one of the world's largest publicly traded companies.
The House committee twice demanded that the state attorneys general hand over all records of communications between their offices and outside groups about Exxon inquiries.
Darin LaHood, a Republican of Illinois on the panel, said on Wednesday that the probe by the attorneys general prohibits free speech in a way "you would see in a third world country."
Cyndi Roy Gonzalez, the spokeswoman for the Massachusetts attorney general's office, said in a statement that Smith's committee has no right to interfere with "... a state inquiry into whether a private company violated state laws, and we will continue to fight any and all efforts to stop our investigation.”
Green groups Greenpeace and 350.org made similar criticisms in a letter to Smith.
Exxon, which has said that it has acknowledged the reality of climate change for years, called the subpoena unreasonably burdensome and intrusive. It also raised questioned about jurisdiction.
The attorneys general and the groups have two weeks to respond.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Leslie Adler)