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Incoming GOP House Majority Could End Big Oil Investigation, Advocates Warn

The incoming chair of the House Oversight Committee, Republican Rep. James Comer, has openly bashed the investigation.

Committee Ranking Member James Comer speaks during a House Oversight Committee hearing at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 14, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

A House committee that has spent more than a year investigating the fossil fuel industry’s climate disinformation efforts has reportedly decided not to hand the subpoenaed documents it compiled over to the Senate, a reversal that would likely spell the end of the probe as industry-friendly Republicans take over the chamber.

Investigative journalist Amy Westervelt reported for The Intercept over the weekend that Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who helped lead the Big Oil probe, previously vowed to “release all the subpoenaed documents to the Senate to continue the investigation or at least finish reviewing them for pertinent information — a task the committee has not had the time or staff resources to complete.”

“But the decision to release the documents has since been reversed, according to Khanna’s press secretary,” Westervelt wrote. “The committee also decided not to send letters to the Department of Justice or the White House requesting that the investigation continue, Khanna staffers said.”

The decision by the House panel, which is headed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), drew an outraged response from climate campaigners and watchdogs. Over the course of its investigation, the committee released more than 1,000 pages of documents, including internal emails and company memos further showing that the oil and gas industry is misleading the public about its role in the climate crisis and its supposed efforts to cut down on planet-warming emissions.

“The investigations into Big Oil will continue no matter what, but it should be a no-brainer for Rep. Maloney and Oversight Democrats to forward the Big Oil Files to the Senate and DOJ — or release them all now! The public deserves to know the truth,” tweeted Jamie Henn, the director of Fossil Free Media.

The committee has until January 2 to turn over the documents to the Senate, which will be narrowly controlled by Democrats in the new session. On January 3, Republicans hostile to climate action and allied with oil and gas interests will take over the House.

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the incoming chair of the House Oversight Committee and a recipient of fossil fuel industry donations, has openly bashed the panel’s Big Oil investigation, calling its latest report on the industry’s climate lies “a partisan show designed to demonize America’s energy producers and force radical Green New Deal policies on Americans.”

Comer pledged to “return the Oversight Committee to its primary mission of conducting oversight over the Biden administration.”

Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, said in a statement Tuesday that “refusing to share the committee’s findings with the Senate and others who can continue to investigate Big Oil’s climate deception would be an epic failure by House Democrats.”

“Over the last 15 months, the Oversight Committee has unearthed crucial new evidence that Big Oil companies continue to fuel the climate crisis and lie about it. But members have also made clear that they possess potentially thousands more documents that they have not had time to analyze,” said Wiles. “Obviously the incoming Republican House majority that will control the documents as of January 3 has no interest in continuing to investigate Big Oil.”

“Committee members cannot allow their groundbreaking work to expose Big Oil’s role in fueling the climate crisis to end by giving control of thousands of unexamined documents to Big Oil’s defenders,” Wiles added. “Instead of fumbling the ball on the goal line, Democrats on the committee need to use their final days in the majority to pass along their documents and findings to colleagues in the Senate, officials at the Justice Department, and any other agency that has the power to hold Big Oil accountable.”

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