Cruz jumps into fray over climate change investigation into Exxon Mobil

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), back on Capitol Hill after suspending his presidential primary campaign, speaks to reporters in Washington, May 10, 2016. In his first interview since leaving the Republican presidential race last week, Cruz declined to throw his support behind Trump. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), back on Capitol Hill after suspending his presidential primary campaign last month. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

Texas Senator and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz called on the U.S. Attorney General Thursday to back off the oil industry.

A letter signed by five Republican senators and dated Wednesday called on Attorney General Loretta Lynch to drop any federal investigations into whether oil companies committed fraud in past statements downplaying the science and impact of climate change.

“The Obama administration and its allies in state attorney general offices across the country are threatening to use the power of government to intimidate and ultimately silence companies and researchers who do not agree with the government’s opinions about the allegedly harmful effects of climate change and what should be done about it,” Cruz said in a statement. “This is an abuse of power and a direct assault on the first amendment.”

The Justice Department did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

The attack on Lynch stems from testimony she gave before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March. Asked by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, R-Rhode Island, about what the Justice Department was doing on a “climate denial scheme,” Lynch replied, “We have received information about it and have referred it to the FBI to consider whether or not it meets the criteria for what we could take action on. I’m not aware of a civil referral at this time.”

While federal prosecutors have so far stayed quiet on their efforts to determine whether the oil sector has committed fraud in past statements on climate change, state attorneys general have not.

In March a group of 18 attorneys general led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced in a press conference they were looking at launching investigations into the sector, to see if companies misled their investors and the public. Exxon Mobil, the Irving-based oil giant,is already under investigation by the New York, U.S. Virgin Islands and California attorneys general.

The senators join a growing Republican opposition to the climate change investigations, which they argue amount to a witch hunt of those on the other side of a scientific debate – even though the overwhelming scientific consensus says that burning fossil fuels is causing the earth’s temperature to rise.

Earlier this month Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intervened in the U.S. Virgin Islands investigation into Exxon Mobil, asking a state district judge in Fort Worth to block a subpoena issued by the territory’s attorney general.

In their letter Wednesday, the senators described the attorneys general investigation as part of a larger government scheme.

“These actions provide disturbing confirmation that government officials at all levels are threatening to wield the sword of law enforcement to silence debate on climate change,” the letter read.

The other signatories were Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Se. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, and Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana.