Congressional Climate Misinformation, Cont. - Climate Litigation Watch

Congressional Climate Misinformation, Cont.

Last month, journalist Rob Schilling filed a Notice of Supplemental Authority with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, in Schilling v. Speaker Pelosi, et al., a common law right of access lawsuit seeking records pertaining to the House Oversight Committee’s apparently unlawful (and non-ethical, per House rules) use of donor-provided outside consultants to staff up its “year-long climate investigation” of ‘Big Oil’ (and others).

At the time, as CLW noted:

“Disinformation” is a funny thing.

As made clear in a filing this evening in Schilling v. Speaker Pelosi, et al., one could get whiplash from the claims by congressmen, activists and donors about whether or not “the [Oversight] committee has enlisted the aid of “a lot of people” involved in planning the Waxman hearings for advice and planning” a “year-long investigation” of perceived political opponents. Which is what the Chair first boasted, before being called out, and putting his shovel down…briefly, only to pick up another whilst denying this misstep.

Whatever the currently operative line about improper use of “unofficial office accounts“, tonight’s filing also makes clear it is now much more difficult to escape the conclusion that this weaponization of congressional subpoena authority was indeed — as argued in detail in a common law right of access records suit filed by the award-winning journalist Schilling — merely an effort to assist third parties. These third-party beneficiaries include not only the Biden administration; new records, including an exhibit filed this evening, suggest the hearings were in fact coordinated with a third-party litigation campaign beginning in the runup to the 2020 elections. 

Documents and the voluble Chairman himself continue to reinforce that this congressional investigation was certainly not conducted in pursuit of the required legitimate legislative purpose.

Then came yet another head-turning contradiction of Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Ro Khanna. Specifically, the Boston Globe ran an article on September 29, 2022 reflecting an interview with Geoffrey Supran, who the reporter views as a self-professed “advisor” to the Defendant House Committee Oversight and Reform, which purported investigation underlies the requests at issue in Schilling’s suit.

The reporter interviewed Mr. Supran for the article. 

In the past four years, seven US attorneys general, including Massachusetts’ Maura Healey, and more than a dozen local governments have filed legal challenges against oil giants for hiding the dangers of burning fossil fuels, several of which have drawn on the researchers’ work.

Congress has also launched two ongoing investigations into oil companies’ history of climate deception; Oreskes testified in one, Supran is an adviser [sic] on the other, and both referenced their work in evidence.

Boston Globe, September 29, 2022

As stated in Mr. Schilling’s Amended Complaint at ¶ 67, Mr. Supran is one of the consultants Defendant Oversight Committee brought in to assist this effort whose correspondence with certain named parties is at issue in this matter. (It is also relevant to the Complaint’s illumination of how and why the Defendant Committee’s investigation is in fact an extra-congressional exercise of investigative and subpoena powers to assist third-party lawsuits. See that complaint at pp. 3-4, ¶¶ 10, 15, 17-19, 24-27, 38-42).

So here we go again with difficulties in keeping the various stories straight. Schilling had recently provided the Court with an article, also dated September 21, 2022, reflecting an interview with Chairman Khanna, in which the Chairman states about the investigation which is the subject of the records request at issue in the suit, inter alia: “there were a couple articles planted about us using outside resources for hearings, which we didn’t”. 

Wait what. This runs counter not just to Mr. Supran’s position as reported in the Boston Globe, but to Chairman Khanna’s previous acknowledgement, prior to Schilling submitting his records requests, as stated in his Complaint at ¶ 10: 

To help guide this enterprise, the Chairman of the Committee’s Subcommittee on the Environment, Rep. Ro “Khanna said the committee has enlisted the aid of ‘a lot of people’ involved in planning the Waxman hearings for advice and planning.” Zack Burdyk, “Democrats call for oil company executives to testify on disinformation campaign,” The Hill, September 16, 2021, As such and as further detailed herein, the Committee and or its Subcommittee, professional staff and/or Chairwoman and/or Subcommittee on the Environment Chairman are lawfully charged with and/or have actual or constructive possession, custody, and control of such records as a part of carrying out Committee business. This suit does not challenge the Committee’s lawful powers or exercise of those powers, but seeks records relating to the weaponization of the Committee to perform extra-legislative duties aided by and at the behest of outside actors.” See also ECF No. 12 at ¶¶ 28, 38-42 (donors boast about providing outside resources to assist government oversight, including specifically the consultants the Amended Complaint cites as being brought in to assist the defendants’ proceedings).

As Mr. Schilling noted to the Court in September, there are escalating and ever-changing public statements demonstrating the urgent public interest in the records that are at issue in his case, and specifically amplify Mr. Schilling’s proprietary interest as a journalist in obtaining records that could contribute to the public discourse.

At bare minimum the public deserves to know which position is actually the truth.