Judge Orders Release of Climate Research Documents

Published June 13, 2011

The Prince William Circuit Court in the state of Virginia has ordered the University of Virginia (U.VA.) to publicly disclose climate research-related documents produced by former U.VA. Professor Michael Mann.

Mann at Center of Controversy
Mann is a central figure in the Climategate scandal and is responsible for creating the since-debunked “hockey stick” graph purportedly showing an abrupt rise in recent temperatures and the absence of a Medieval Warm Period.

The American Tradition Institute (ATI) and Virginia State Legislative Delegate Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) have requested roughly 9,000 pages of documents related to Mann’s research, which ATI has promised to make available to the general public. U.VA., however, has provided only about one-fifth of the requested documents, and only after repeated delays.

The Prince William Circuit Court order requires U.VA. to turn over the requested documents by August 22, although U.VA. may withhold documents it believes are exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Lawyers from both sides will then review documents U.VA. believes are exempt. If the two sides disagree on whether FOIA applies to certain documents, a state judge will rule on the issue.

Academic Freedom Stifled?
Mann and U.Va. claim the FOIA requests are efforts to intimidate climate researchers and stifle academic freedom. ATI, however, disagrees.

“When a policy decision is proposed that is sufficiently far-reaching to shift massive investments into climate change adaptation and prevention—even if that were actually possible—the science underlying the policy demands the most vigorous examination,” said David Schnare, director of the Environmental Law Center at ATI.

More Legal Action Likely
“By the end of this year, ATI and U.VA. will obtain judicial review of the University’s obligation to fulfill the public’s right to know how taxpayer-funded employees use the taxpayers’ resources,” said Christopher Horner, director of litigation at ATI’s Environmental Law Center. “The court will then determine whether these important documents can be hidden behind the ivy-covered walls of our public colleges and universities under a nonexistent FOIA exemption for ‘academic freedom,’ which Virginia’s legislature has never recognized.”

Tom Tanton ([email protected]) is principal of T2 & Associates, a California-based energy technology and policy consulting group.