UPDATED: U-Va. receives new FOIA for global warming documents
The University of Virginia has received a request under Virginia's freedom of information laws seeking documents related to the work of former university climate scientist Michael Mann.
The American Tradition Institute Environmental Law Center on Thursday asked the university to turn over documents, including e-mails Mann exchanged with other scientists while employed at the university, on behalf of Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) and two other state residents.
The group seeks similar documents to those sought by Virginia Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R) using a civil subpoena. The university has been fighting Cuccinelli's demand in court, arguing that his inquiry violates Mann's academic freedom and that the attorney general has singled out Mann because he does not agree with his research findings that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming.
Cuccinelli says he wants the documents to explore whether a fraud investigation is warranted. He is using subpoena power given to him under Virginia's Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, which empowers the attorney general to investigate instances in which public employees misuse tax dollars.
A judge in September set aside Cuccinelli's civil investigative demand because it did not state objective reasons why Cuccinelli believed fraud might have taken place. He rewrote the request and remains in litigation with the university over the issue.
Mann, who left the university in 2005 and now works at Pennsylvania State University, has been cleared of wrongdoing by several previous inquiries into his work. His research findings have also been upheld by other scientists.
Marshall made a similar request to the University of Virginia prior to Cuccinelli's subpoena. The university at first told Marshall it no longer had access to the documents he sought. But in response to Cuccinelli's subpoena, it has acknowledged that it has a backup server that contains some of the records.
The university has now told Marshall that the costs of preparing the documents he seeks would total $8,000. He has filed a bill to be considered when the legislature convenes next week to allow public employees to be terminated or otherwise disciplined if they knowingly violate public information laws.
The group notes that FOIA law gives the university just one week to respond to the request. If the school legally resists, it says it is prepared for a court fight.
"We can then, finally, determine what it is that so many have gone to such great lengths to keep the public from knowing about that which the public has paid for," they said in a statement.
The group's senior director of litigation, Christopher Horner, has written two books on why he believes global warming is a hoax and gives frequently speeches on the subject. He is also a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
In a statement, Mann noted that the think tank receives funding from ExxonMobile and other corporate groups.
"Industry-funded lobbyists like Horner have been using precisely the same tactics for decades to intimidate scientists whose scientific findings proved inconvenient to the vested interests they represent such as the tobacco, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries," he said.
"There is substantial case law defending scientists and academics against such thinly-veiled attempts to suppress scientific inquiry by harassing individual scientists. I suspect that U.Va, as other great universities have in the past, will respect that tradition and stand up against these transparent attempts not just to bully me, but to thwart the progress of science," Mann said.
We've reached out to the university to learn how they plan to respond to the freedom of information request but have not yet heard back.
UPDATE 6:09 p.m.: Carol Wood, a spokesman for the University of Virginia, confirms the university has received the FOIA request but says a response has not yet been formulated. She notes the attorneys handling the university's legal challenge to Cuccinelli are being paid with private donations, not tax dollars.
Rosalind S. Helderman
| January 6, 2011; 4:42 PM ET
Categories: Ken Cuccinelli, Rosalind Helderman
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