Rul­ing in Vir­ginia al­ters cli­mate-pa­pers fight

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY PAIGE WIN­FIELD CUN­NING­HAM

Vir­ginia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken­neth T. Cuc­cinelli II says a judge’s or­der com­pelling the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia to turn over thou­sands of pages of cli­mate-change re­search will likely al­ter his own battle for the long-sought doc­u­ments.

The Repub­li­can at­tor­ney gen­eral and state Del­e­gate Robert G. Mar­shall have bat­tled the univer­sity for more than a year over the re­lease of doc­u­ments re­lated to the work of for­mer pro­fes­sor Michael Mann. Mr. Mann had been in­volved in a leaked email ex­change with col­leagues that cli­mate-change skep­tics claimed showed sci­en­tific mis­con­duct.

Mr. Mar­shall, Prince Wil­liam Repub­li­can, re­quested the doc­u­ments through the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act, while Mr. Cuc­cinelli sub­poe­naed them. Mr. Cuc­cinelli said an or­der is­sued May 24 in Prince Wil­liam County Cir­cuit Court that grants Mr. Mar­shall’s re­quest could af­fect his own ap­peal to the state Supreme Court to re­verse a pre­vi­ous rul­ing in fa­vor of the univer­sity.

“It cer­tainly can af­fect what we’re do­ing,” Mr. Cuc­cinelli said. “If they es­sen­tially dis­gorge ev­ery­thing, there’s no cause for them to be go­ing to court to try and cover it up.”

He said he plans to re­view the doc­u­ments and “see how the process un­folds.”

“If, as and when we get copies of the stuff, we’ll see what’s re­spon­sive,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to tell what isn’t pro­duced. You don’t see what isn’t there.”

The univer­sity has so far turned over 20 per­cent of the 9,000 pages of doc­u­ments it says are re­spon­sive to a re­quest from the Amer­i­can Tra­di­tion In­sti- tute (ATI), a con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing, en­vi­ron­men­tally fo­cused group that joined forces with Mr. Mar­shall in Jan­uary. ATI filed a pe­ti­tion two weeks ago, say­ing the univer­sity had failed to re­spond to an in­for­ma­tion re­quest filed early this year.

A judge has given the univer­sity un­til Aug. 22 to sup­ply the rest of the doc­u­ments. Mr. Mar­shall said he was pleased with the de­ci­sion, but is skep­ti­cal the univer­sity will hand over ev­ery­thing he has re­quested.

“I want to look at what they’ve given us and ex­am­ine what they’ve with­held and see why it’s been with­held,” Mr. Mar­shall told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “The more they stonewall, the more they’re mak­ing Richard Nixon look like a choir­boy.”

Univer­sity spokes­woman Carol Wood said the univer­sity has been in “fre­quent and reg­u­lar con­tact” with ATI lawyers, work­ing to clar­ify their re­quest and work out a “rea­son­ably man­age­able process” to sat­isfy the pub­lic in­for­ma­tion law.

Mr. Mar­shall en­listed ATI’s help af­ter a year of pur­su­ing the cli­mate-change doc­u­ments on his own. Af­ter sub­mit­ting his first in­for­ma­tion re­quest in De­cem­ber 2009, the univer­sity told him it no longer pos­sessed the ma­te­ri­als he re­quested. In re­sponse to a sec­ond re­quest the fol­low­ing spring, he was told it would cost $8,500 to pre­pare the doc­u­ments.

While state law al­lows pub­lic agen­cies to charge a rea­son­able sum to com­pen­sate for time and ef­fort in meet­ing pub­lic in­for­ma­tion re­quests, Mr. Mar­shall and ATI said the univer­sity was charg­ing an un­rea­son­able sum. The court has yet to de­ter­mine how much the univer­sity may charge to meet the re­quest.

“This case is about whether the gov­ern­ment can put up a pay wall to frus­trate the pub­lic’s right to trans­parency,” said David Schnare, di­rec­tor of the ATI En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Cen­ter. “If it can, the pub­lic can’t hold gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees to the high stan­dards of con­duct they should meet.”

At the cen­ter of the storm: Pro­fes­sor Michael Mann, Di­rec­tor of the Earth Sys­tem Science Cen­ter of the Me­te­o­rol­ogy Depart­ment at Penn State Univer­sity.

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