The man battling NASA for access to potential “Climategate” e-mails says the agency is still withholding documents and that NASA may be trying to stall long enough to avoid hurting an upcoming Senate debate on global warming.
Nearly three years after his first Freedom of Information Act request, Christopher C. Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said he will file a lawsuit Thursday to force NASA to turn over documents the agency has promised but has never delivered.
Mr. Horner said he expects the documents, primarily e-mails from scientists involved with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), will be yet another blow to the science behind global warming, which has come under fire in recent months after e-mails from a leading British research unit indicated scientists had manipulated some data.
“What we’ve got is the third leg of the stool here, which is the U.S.-led, NASA-run effort to defend what proved to be indefensible, and that was a manufactured record of aberrant warming,” Mr. Horner said. “We assume that we will also see through these e-mails, as we’ve seen through others, organized efforts to subvert transparency laws like FOIA.”
He said with a global warming debate looming in the Senate, NASA may be trying to avoid having embarrassing documents come out at this time, but eventually the e-mails will be released.
“They know time is our friend,” said Mr. Horner, author of “Power Grab: How Obama’s Green Policies Will Steal Your Freedom and Bankrupt America.”
Mark S. Hess, a spokesman for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which overseas the climate program, said the agency is working as fast as it can, and that Mr. Horner should expect some answers any day.
“It looks like the response to his appeal is probably going to happen very soon. I can’t tell you it’s going to be tomorrow or the next day, but it’s just a matter of days,” Mr. Hess said.
He said he hasn’t seen the response, and doesn’t know whether it will authorize any more information to be released.
The science behind global warming has come under question since e-mails leaked from one of the key sources for global temperature data, the Climatic Research Unit in Britain, seemed to show scientists manipulated data. It became known in the press as “Climategate.”
An investigation has cleared the scientists of deliberate malpractice and declared the basic science credible.
The British investigation also sympathized with scientists being reluctant to share all of their data, but investigators said the science needed to be above reproach and so the more that is shared, the better.
In the case of NASA’s FOIA situation, The Washington Times first reported on the agency’s delinquency in December. At that time, the agency was more than two years overdue on one request and nearing the two-year mark on another request - far longer than the 20 business days allowed under FOIA law for a first response.
After that report, the agency released about 2,000 pages, many of them heavily redacted, to CEI. Mr. Horner said among those pages was evidence he said proves NASA data is based on the British records that have come under fire.
But CEI said the agency withheld e-mails NASA scientists sent from nongovernment e-mails, even though they were doing government science work.
Mr. Horner said he has evidence one scientist went back and deleted time stamps on his Internet postings to his private website, which Mr. Horner said shows the scientist was doing that work on government time.
CEI’s lawsuit, which is expected to be filed in federal district court in Washington, also says that e-mails leaked from the British research unit include documents that should have been released by NASA, but haven’t been.
Mr. Hess said they are fielding more than just CEI’s inquiries, and they are taking them all in order.
“We all understand the statute is 20 days, and we work really hard to comply with that as much as humanly possible, but for the most part, especially for a request where you may have to search thousands of documents, sometimes 20 days is just a herculean task,” he said.
Some of the NASA scientists Mr. Horner targeted with requests have spoken out against the recent FOIA inquiries, calling them an effort to try to intimidate scientists into not publishing their work.
Gavin Schmidt said information requests have ballooned in recent months and that he thinks those making the inquiries are trying “to put a chilling effect on scientists speaking out in public.”
And James E. Hansen, director of GISS, said in a March memo that responding to FOIAs takes away from his time to do research.
He called it “a waste of taxpayer money” and questioned the motives of those filing FOIA requests.
“It seems that a primary objective of the FOIA requesters and the ‘harvesters’ is discussions that they can snip and quote out of context,” he said, warning that could confuse the public and that might delay the pressure Mr. Hansen said will be needed to force policymakers to combat global warming.
The document fight comes as the Senate is preparing for two global warming debates.
One will be on a Republican move to try to overturn Obama administration rules that would let the Environmental Protection Agency regulate carbon emissions, even without specific new authorization from Congress. The second is expected to be a full-blown debate on Democrats’ bill to combat global warming.
On Wednesday, President Obama said he wants to see action.
“I’m going to keep fighting to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation in Washington,” he said at an event in California. “We’re going to try to get it done this year, because what we want to do is create incentives that will fully unleash the potential for jobs and growth in this sector.”