The dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington is seen behind the emissions, and a smokestack, from the Capitol Power Plant, the only coal-burning power plant in the nation’s capitol, on March 10, 2014.  (EPA/JIM LO SCALZO)

The head of a congressional committee on science has issued subpoenas to the Obama administration over a recent scientific study refuting claims that global warming had “paused” or slowed over the last decade.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and a prominent congressional skeptic on climate change, issued the subpoenas two weeks ago demanding e-mails and records from U.S. scientists who participated in the study, which undercut a popular argument used by critics who reject the scientific consensus that man-made pollution is behind the planet’s recent warming.

Smith’s document request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ordered the agency to turn over scientific data as well as internal “communications between or among employees” involved in the study, according to a letter Friday by the House committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (Tex.).  Johnson accused Smith of “furthering a fishing expedition” by looking for ways to discredit NOAA’s study, which was published in June in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

“It is a disturbing trend for the legitimacy of this committee,” Johnson said in the letter to Smith. She linked the subpoena to previous requests by the committee’s Republican staff seeking information about NOAA’s climate researchers, which Johnson called “a serious misuse of Congressional oversight powers.” Noting that NOAA routinely publishes supporting data for its studies, Johnson said Smith had “not articulated a legitimate need for anything beyond what NOAA has already provided.”

[U.S. scientists say the global warming “pause" never happened.]

Smith, responding to Johnson’s letter, said the subpoena was not “harassment” but “appropriate constitutional oversight.”

“This scandal-ridden administration’s lack of openness is the real problem,” Smith said in a statement released by his office. “Congress cannot do its job when agencies openly defy Congress and refuse to turn over information. When an agency decides to alter the way it has analyzed historical temperature data for the past few decades, it’s crucial to understand on what basis those decisions were made.”

Smith, a lawyer who became chairman of the science committee in 2013, has repeatedly rejected mainstream scientific views about climate change, while accusing the Obama administration of undermining the U.S. economy with policies that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In writings and speeches, Smith has frequently cited scientific studies that suggested a slowing or even a halt in the rise of global temperatures since 2000.

[Scientists reject claim that the solar changes are causing climate change.]

The existence of a warming “pause” came under question following several new scientific analyses early this year. The study that prompted the subpoenas was led by NOAA’s Thomas Karl, who heads its National Centers for Environmental Information, and was regarded by many experts as a bombshell in the climate change debate.

The NOAA study reported on a series of adjustments to the agency’s influential temperature data set, seeking to address “residual data biases” affecting some sources of measurement, such as ocean temperature measurements taken by ships.

The result was that the “newly corrected and updated global surface temperature data … do not support the notion of a global warming ‘hiatus,’” Karl and his fellow researchers reported.

“Our new analysis now shows the trend over the period 1950-1999, a time widely agreed as having significant anthropogenic global warming, is 0.113°C [per decade], which is virtually indistinguishable with the trend over the period 2000-2014 (0.116°C [per decade]),” they continued.

Chris Mooney contributed to this report.

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