Friday, October 30, 2015

How one congressional investigation into a climate scientist is different from another

By Rob Nikolewski @ Watchdog.org / October 27, 2015 / 7 Comments

COMMITTEE QUESTIONS: George Mason University climate scientist Jagadish Shukla is the focus of questions from the House Science Committee regarding finances.

Earlier this year, House of Representatives liberal Raúl Grijalva of Arizona sent a letter to seven universities asking for detailed financial records from sources such as fossil fuel companies that gave money to scientists who’ve questioned how much humans cause climate change.

Now, House of Representatives conservative Lamar Smith of Texas — also chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology — has launched an investigation into the financial dealings of a climate scientist who signed a letter “strongly” supporting using federal racketeering laws to investigate those who “undermine climate science.”

The two congressional probes into the increasingly polarized global warming debate have gone in different directions.

Grijalva backed down amid charges of McCarthyism, but Smith’s investigation into George Mason University climate dynamics professor Jagadish Shukla is proceeding apace.

What’s the difference?

Smith’s critics say there essentially is none, but his supporters say there’s a big difference — namely, the questions do not focus on one’s opinion about climate change but government tax dollars.

One noted scientist who has been in the center of many a climate crossfire told Watchdog.org it appears the Smith investigation is worth pursuing.

“It should be investigated,” said Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry. “It’s a topic of discussion among my colleagues and no matter what side of the climate change debate they’re on, they agree something looks suspicious here.”

Curry was one of the scientists targeted in February by Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, who cited “documents I have received that highlight potential conflicts of interest and failure to disclose corporate funding sources in academic climate research.”

Curry objected, saying at the time, “Absolutely, this letter is intimidation.”

Hit by criticism, Grijalva withdrew the letter — the link to the letter from Grijalva’s office at the Natural Resources Committee can no longer be found — and conceded it was “overreach.”

The Shukla backstory

Shukla is now the latest scientist drawing attention from Capitol Hill, but the attention he’s getting is the result of a political boomerang.

Shukla was the lead signatory of a September letter from 20 climate scientists calling on President Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to file civil lawsuits against “corporations in the fossil fuel industry and their supporters” who have “knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change.”

The RICO law is commonly used to go after Mafia figures, but Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, has advocated using it against “fossil fuel companies and their allies” as it was used against tobacco companies.

The letter sparked backlash from critics — including Curry — who said invoking RICO would silence scientific discourse and act as a blunt instrument to intimidate policy discussion.


But in the letter’s fallout, questions arose regarding Shukla and his finances. The decorated scientist heads the Institute of Global Environment and Society, as well as the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies at George Mason.

A financial examination first initiated by University of Colorado environmental studies professor Roger Pielke Jr. and subsequent followups from journalists and bloggers raised allegations Shukla may be double-dipping to the tune of millions of dollars.

Shukla earned $314,000 last year from George Mason, a public university based in Fairfax, Virginia. IRS documents show Shukla also received $333,048 in compensation from IGES in 2014 for working an average of 28 hours a week.

His wife, Anne, received $166,097 in compensation as the IGES business manager. National Review reported that Shukla’s daughter is also on the payroll, but her earnings have gone unreported.


That prompted Smith’s investigation. A letter sent to Shukla’s lawyer last week said the reports raise “serious allegations about Dr. Shukla’s use of grant money.”

Two different committee actions

How is the Smith investigation different from the aborted Grijalva inquiry?

In an email to Watchdog.org, Smith said, “IGES appears to be almost fully funded by taxpayer money while simultaneously participating in partisan political activity by requesting a RICO investigation of companies and organizations that disagree with the Obama administration on climate change.”

Smith’s office said the committee is not focused on the opinions of scientists, but on the potential misuses of federal funds by Shukla and IGES. None of the other 20 signatories of the letter to Obama have received a similar letter from the committee, Smith’s office said.

“Regarding Shukla, that remains to be uncovered, but it appears there is some sort of irregularity,” Curry told Watchdog.org in a telephone interview.

It seems the partisan lines have been drawn.

After the letter from the scientists — called the #RICO20 on Twitter — got lambasted by critics, Whitehouse took to the Huffington Post to call detractors part of “the right-wing attack machine” who “are having fun twisting” the application of RICO “around in service to their fossil-fuel friends.”

“The bottom line is this,” Whitehouse wrote. “A private company and/or its industry allies should not knowingly lie to the American people about the harms that are caused by its product.”

Whitehouse also called Curry “a prominent climate denier” and Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics “a small cog in a massive climate-denial machine.”

“For anyone who tries to say that this RICO thing is only about the oil companies, Sen. Whitehouse’s continued writings imply otherwise,” Curry said Sunday.

Whitehouse “didn’t mention any specific oil companies,” in the Huffington Post article, Curry said, “but he mentioned two climate scientists by name, including myself. So when the ‘RICO 20’ say, oh this isn’t about the scientists, well, it clearly is.”


Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, the ranking member of the House Science Committee, has not responded to emails from Watchdog.org about the Shukla investigation, but there appears to be tension between her and Smith.

Johnson sent a letter to Smith Friday, according to the Washington Post, complaining about recent subpoenas from Smith to NOAA, demanding information from the agency about a recent study that contradicted claims that there has been a “pause” in global warming.

Accusing Smith of “furthering a fishing expedition,” Johnson wrote the subpoenas represent “a serious misuse of Congressional oversight powers.”

Smith wrote Johnson back, saying his actions are an “appropriate constitutional oversight” and do not constitute harassment.


Rob is the National Energy Correspondent for Watchdog.org. Rob is an Emmy-winning news anchor who has held many prominent positions in the journalism field for over 10 years working for MSNBC, Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh and several local television stations. He served as the bureau chief for New Mexico Watchdog and Capitol Report New Mexico for four years. Rob can be reached on Twitter at @NMWatchdog or by email at rnikolewski@watchdog.org

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