Judge Orders NASA to Release Climate Change-Related Documents
A climate change denial group once funded by oil giant ExxonMobil (2012 revenues: $453.123 billion) won a legal victory last week over NASA when a federal judge ordered the space agency to turn over more documents related to its 2007 revisions of global temperature data. Release of the information will have no effect on the climate change data that scientists are using to determine the extent of global warming that is occurring.
The controversy started in August 2007, when statistician Stephen McIntyre found an error in NASA’s temperature data sets that he said caused temperatures in the U.S. from the year 2000 onward to be overstated. After posting “his findings on his website ClimateAudit.org,” according to Judge Barbara Rothstein’s decision, McIntyre “emailed them to NASA climate scientists” at the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS), which quickly “revised values in its temperature data set…[and] did not issue a press release announcing or explaining the corrections.”
Sensing a potential scandal, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) submitted three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to NASA, two in August 2007 and one in January 2008. After NASA released 2,500 pages of data in response, CEI filed a FOIA lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia in 2010.
Among the materials NASA withheld were two electronic directories referred to as the “Steve” and “alternate cleaning” directories, media inquiries about the data corrections, and two email accounts of Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a NASA scientist who teaches at Columbia University and contributes to a blog called RealClimate.org. Although CEI wanted all that and more, Judge Rothstein ordered NASA to release only the “Steve” directory and one of Dr. Schmidt’s email accounts, finding that the other materials either held no responsive documents or fell within a valid FOIA exemption.
Declining to go further, Rothstein rejected CEI’s contention that that NASA had acted in bad faith. “CEI”s request for discovery is not justified here because CEI has not provided any evidence that the agency acted in bad faith and the outstanding issues of fact do not suggest bad faith on the part of NASA,” Judge Rothstein ruled.
Founded in 1984, CEI has long received the bulk of its funding from fossil fuel interests hostile to climate change science, including the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, ExxonMobil, the Koch Brothers, General Motors, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Plastics Council, the Chlorine Chemistry Council and Arch Coal. Other big donors include the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and Pfizer.
To Learn More:
Info on Climate Change Data May Come to Light (by Ryan Abbott, Courthouse News Service)
Competitive Enterprise Institute v. NASA (Memorandum Order) (pdf)
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