New Lawsuit Over Climate Scientists’ Emails

Since July 2015, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) has engaged in an ongoing campaign for internal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) documents and emails, because he believes NOAA has “altered [climate] data to get the results they needed to advance this administration’s extreme climate change agenda.”[1] NOAA has produced some documents to Rep. Smith, but has steadfastly refused to produce NOAA scientists’ email correspondence. (Previous coverage of this dispute is available here and here.)

Now, a group called Judicial Watch has entered the fray. Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the group has sought the same internal emails and other documents that NOAA refused to produce to Rep. Smith. According to a press release by Judicial Watch, NOAA did not respond to the FOIA request.[2] On December 2, the group filed a federal FOIA lawsuit in the District Court for the District of Columbia.[3]

While the case is pending, Judicial Watch’s press release says that “NOAA called and told Judicial Watch that it would begin searching for documents responsive to Judicial Watch’s FOIA request.” Judicial Watch’s president also stated that “we have little doubt that the documents will show that the Obama administration put politics before science to advance global warming alarmism.”[4]

NOAA has already given Rep. Smith all of the data and methodologies he requested, as well as about 100 non-scientist emails.[5] However, NOAA has withheld emails reflecting scientists’ internal deliberations, and it has maintained that “the confidentiality of these communications among scientists is essential to frank discourse” and it “is a long-standing practice in the scientific community to protect the confidentiality of deliberative scientific discourse.”[6] Public letters by major scientific societies, as well as letters signed by over 600 individual scientists – including former NOAA scientists – thanked NOAA for protecting the free exchange of scientific ideas.[7]

The emergence of this lawsuit is of little surprise: cases across the country have attempted to use FOIA and state law equivalents to access publicly-funded researchers’ private correspondence, including currently pending cases in Virginia and Arizona (on appeal). Previous cases in Virginia and West Virginia generally upheld protections for researchers’ correspondence. Meanwhile, an earlier FOIA lawsuit for NASA climate scientists’ emails before the District Court for the District of Columbia – the same court considering this newest case – yielded production of a redacted subset of the requested emails, and the case was settled by the parties.[8]

Lauren Kurtz is the Executive Director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, which seeks to protect the scientific endeavor. A modified version of this post appeared here.









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