The industrial conglomerate headed by the billionaire Koch brothers isn't playing ball with liberal Senate Democrats who are hunting for ties between the fossil-fuel industry and research that casts doubt upon human-induced climate change.
Koch Industries Inc. is among 100 companies, lobbying groups, and conservative organizations that received a late-February letter from the lawmakers asking for 10 years worth of detailed information by April 3 about support for scientific research.
But Koch Industries, in a March 5 letter, told the senators that they can have the company's answer to the inquiry now: They will provide nothing in response to the Senate request. Mark V. Holden, the Kochs' general counsel, criticized the senators' "apparent efforts to infringe upon and potentially stifle fundamental First Amendment activities."
"The activity and efforts about which you inquire, and Koch's involvement, if any, in them, are at the core of the fundamental liberties protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution," states the letter to Sens. Ed Markey, Barbara Boxer, and Sheldon Whitehouse.
"To the extent that your letter touches on matters that implicate the First Amendment, I am sure you recognize Koch's right to participate in the debate of important public policy issues and its right of free association," Holden writes to the senators.
The three Democrats sent the letters (one of them is here) after revelations that papers by Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon, who is affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, failed to disclose research funding from Exxon, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, utility giant Southern Company, and elsewhere.
Soon's research disputes the scientific consensus that human activities are the main driver of global warming.
A spokesman for Markey defended the inquiry from the three senators, who are all members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, into whether various companies and groups have backed scientific research.
They are seeking specific information about recipients of grants, contracts, and other payments; the amount of funding; publications or other written materials that stemmed from the research; and more.
"We know when the government funds climate science. Scientists have to acknowledge it. The agencies have to report on it. We're asking companies to tell us what climate science they are funding," said Markey spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder.
"That gives the public and policymakers more information, not less. Companies that are supporting legitimate, scientific inquiry should have no concerns about responding," he said.
But Holden, in the Koch Industries' letter that declines participation in the probe, states that the Democrats have not provided "any explanation or justification for an official Senate Committee inquiry into activities protected by the First Amendment."
Koch Industries has companies involved in oil refining, paper products, fertilizers, pipelines, and other industrial sectors.