In recent remarks, Robert E. Murray, the chief executive officer of Murray Energy, the largest privately held coal mining company in America, enthusiastically praised Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, for leading an investigation into prominent climate scientists and environmental officials.
Murray, speaking at a gathering in Austin last week for global warming deniers organized by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said he wanted to “congratulate” Smith on his subpoena of Kathryn Sullivan, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Murray then declared that the American Meteorology Association and Union of Concerned Scientists, two private nonprofits that serve the scientific community, also “need to be investigated.”
“They’re crony capitalists, they’re making a fortune off of you the taxpayer,” said Murray, who stood up to praise the Texas congressman again on the next day of the conference. After receiving the second round of compliments, Smith thanked the coal executive and took a seat next to him.
Smith, who gained notoriety for serving as the chief House sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill widely decried for promoting internet censorship, is now leading the charge in Congress against the scientific community.
Since assuming the chairmanship of the House Science Committee, Smith has led a series of attacks on the scientific consensus around global warming, including hearings at which Smith and other GOP lawmakers berated officials involved in creating climate policy. Smith has also proposed legislation to create political criteria for studies funded by the National Science Foundation and to cut the budgets of scientists involved in climate research.
In recent months, Smith has adopted more aggressive tactics. In June, NOAA scientists published a study in the peer-reviewed journal Science that refutes claims that global warming has “paused” or slowed down, a popular argument among climate change deniers, including Smith. In response, Smith issued subpoenas to the scientists who participated in the study, as well as to NOAA director Kathryn Sullivan.
Smith’s subpoena goes beyond scientific data and asks for all “communications between or among employees.” Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, the ranking Democrat on the committee, charged Smith of “furthering a fishing expedition.”
Critics say Smith’s investigations are designed to intimidate scientists whose research may pose a financial threat to the fossil fuel industry, which donates heavily to Republican Party politicians. Slate writer Phil Plait notes that Smith’s subpoenas appear “more like politically motivated strong-arm tactics than an actual attempt at oversight.”
“Scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that some may see as politically controversial,” wrote seven leading scientific societies in a tersely worded letter sent to Smith on November 24.
Murray, the founder of Murray Energy, disputes government data on global warming, claiming that regulators are “not telling hardly any truth.” “The earth has actually cooled over the last 17 years,” Murray told a trade publication last year, explaining a lawsuit he has pending against the Environmental Protection Agency.
After discussing climate science, Murray sharply criticized Hillary Clinton’s $30 billion proposal to shore up coal miner pensions and retrain workers who have been impacted by the downturn in the coal industry.
Speaking about “my coal mining families,” Murray said, “30 billion dollars of your money? These people don’t want welfare.” Murray continued to argue that miners “are just people who want to work in honor and dignity” and “will never leave” the coal industry “because economically, they’re forced to never leave.”
This year, Murray Energy announced layoffs of around 1,800 workers, or 21 percent of the company workforce. Murray Energy has reportedly pressured workers to participate in campaign events and to contribute money to Republican politicians. In July, the Labor Department accused the company of intimidating employees who reported safety and fire hazard violations.
The donors to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the sponsor of the event, were inadvertently disclosed in 2012. In one year alone, Koch Industries donated $159,834 and a Koch-controlled family foundation gave $69,788. Other fossil fuel donors included Crownquest Oil & Gas, AEP Texas, ExxonMobil, VF-Russia, Texas Western Energy Corporation, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, Chevron, and Henry Petroleum LP.
Brooke Rollins, the president of the foundation, took a moment during the conference to explain how the event was conceived.
“About a year and a half ago, a supporter of ours that I know well and is a good friend, said ‘Brooke, I think we really need to pull together the best and the brightest who are debunking the myth of climate change and global warming,'” Rollins said. She then revealed the friend in the audience who helped inspire the event: Bud Brigham, a hydraulic fracturing executive.