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Railroad Commission Chair Warns of ExxonMobil Witch Hunt

Also, the Land Commissioner purchases three historic buildings near the Alamo and causes a minor kerfuffle with "dog catcher" comments.

Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter.

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter says he’s concerned about what he calls a “witch hunt” against ExxonMobil amid New York’s probe into whether the energy giant lied to the public and investors about the business risks of climate change.

“Radical environmentalist ideology is increasingly masquerading as scientific fact and causing a chilling effect on credible climate science and free speech,” the Republican wrote to Attorney General Ken Paxton in a letter dated Monday.

Earlier this month, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed the company, according to media reports, seeking information about whether it publicly downplayed risks of man-made climate change — even as ExxonMobil’s own scientists warned company executives of the phenomenon’s consequences and published research along those lines.

The subpoena followed a series of reports by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News revealing inconsistencies in the ways the company approached climate change in-house and publicly.

ExxonMobil has denied any wrongdoing and called the news reports "deliberately misleading."

Porter’s letter did not mention those news reports, and claimed that Hillary Clinton “gave Schneiderman political cover to launch a climate change witch hunt against Exxon Mobil” when she called for a Department of Justice investigation into the matter in October. 

The New York Times broke the story on Schneiderman’s probe, and reported that his office began investigating a year ago.

“I am extremely concerned about these recent reports that are intended to damage the U.S. and Texas oil and gas industries and to further the left’s radical green effort,” Porter wrote.

Porter’s letter comes amid another hot-button climate change investigation — one launched by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, who has tried to refute the overwhelming consensus that human activity helps drive climate change.

Smith — the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology — has subpoenaed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, seeking the internal deliberations of scientists involved in a landmark study contradicting claims that global warming had “paused” in recent years. (The administration says those deliberations are confidential.)

Texas Weekly asked Porter's office whether he thought that Smith's investigation, too, would cause the “chilling effect” on science that he fears with Schneiderman’s would. It's a charge scientists and other critics have levied on Smith.

Mary Bell, a spokeswoman, said Porter views Smith's investigation differently and "commends" the effort.

"We don't see the correlation," she wrote in email.

"Chairman Smith is gathering information pertinent to his committee oversight function from government-paid researchers to help him understand if they altered or changed data to fit their predetermined agenda," the email said. "Chairman Porter is criticizing politically motivated legal actions taken by state attorneys general."

Porter is facing a primary challenge in 2016 from John Greytok, a longtime Republican activist, attorney and lobbyist.

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The Texas General Land Office is spreading its footprint around San Antonio’s Alamo Plaza.

The agency on Wednesday announced that it purchased three historically significant buildings across from the Alamo Complex: the Woolworth, Crockett and Palace buildings.

The $14.4 million purchase will add nearly 100,000 square feet of building space to the state’s holdings. Some of the new space overlaps the original grounds of the Alamo Mission, built in 1724. This includes the spot where Lt. Col. William B. Travis penned his famous letter calling for reinforcements 179 years ago.

“The purchase of these buildings caps an extraordinary year in the history of the Alamo,” Land Commissioner George P. Bush said in a statement, calling the plaza-adjacent buildings "irreplaceable."

Bush said nothing will change for the tenants of the buildings, but handing ownership to Texas will help the state with its plans to improve the experiences of those who visit the Alamo.

In October, the land office, San Antonio leaders and the Alamo Endowment Board signed an agreement to develop a master plan for the Alamo Historic District and Complex.

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Bush is facing criticism after he was quoted comparing his land commissioner job to that of a “dog catcher.”

"There's no better experience than getting involved in a presidential race because you truly do absorb so much more information than say, running for dog catcher like I did in Texas,” the Republican reportedly said Wednesday.

That’s according to a Houston Chronicle account of a supporters-only videoconference with backers of his dad Jeb Bush’s presidential bid. 

Democrats seized on the quote, suggesting that the first-year office holder is using his versatile agency as a political launching pad.

“George P. Bush has long been accused of preparing to use his office as a stepping stone, now he has essentially admitted it. He clearly has no respect for Texas, its people, and the office he holds, Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement Thursday.

A GLO spokesman said in response, “Commissioner Bush was obviously using self-deprecating humor, which he often does in speeches and remarks. The fact is, he’s very proud of the incredible year of accomplishments that we’ve had at the General Land Office. He closed the deal on the Alamo Plaza buildings and stood up to protect Texans’ land just this week. Perhaps the commissioner should work on his comedic delivery though.”

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