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Virginia Politics
Posted at 05:45 PM ET, 05/25/2011

U.-Va. agrees to complete response to global warming public records request by August

This post has been updated.

The University of Virginia and a conservative advocacy group have agreed the university will turn over documents in response to a public information request by the group seeking documents related to the work of a former university climate scientist.

U-Va. will comply with the request by Aug. 22.

The American Tradition Institute’s Environmental Law Center, along with Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William), want e-mails and other documents related to the work of global warming researcher Michael Mann.

The university has said the group requested about 9,000 pages of records, and the organization says about 20 percent have been turned over so far.

But the group believes the university has been dragging its feet in producing the records. The university has said it is working as quickly as possible to sift through thousands of pages of records to figure out which should be released.

In an agreement filed in Prince William Circuit Court on Tuesday, the university agreed it will turn over all records, in electronic form, within 90 days--or Aug. 22.

The public records request is separate from a civil subpoena filed by Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli (R) demanding similar records about Mann’s research, including e-mails sent between Mann and 39 other scientists at the university and around the country. Since 2005, Mann has worked at Penn State University.

ATI and Cuccinelli say they want the records to show whether there was a coordinated effort by scientists to skew data to indicate the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. They say records produced at the taxpayer funded university are legally public, and university resistance to their release may indicate there is something to hide.

Mann and many academics believe his work is being targeted by groups that do not agree with the research’s conclusion. They note that several previous investigations have found no evidence that Mann suppressed or manipulated data and have confirmed the findings of his global warming research. They think the university should fight against what they see as a politically motivated intrusion into academic freedom.

U-Va.. is, indeed, fighting Cuccinelli’s subpoena in court, and the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

The university’s president, meanwhile, has said she plans to use “all available exemptions ” under Virginia’s public records laws to shield some documents from the ATI request.

In a separate order filed in court Tuesday, a judge ordered that the university make available any records it exempts from release for review, under seal, by a judge and lawyers for ATI.

That way, they can attempt to challenge exemptions if they believe the university has failed to release some records required by law.

In a statement, ATI said the university was only agreeing to comply because the group had filed a petition in court to compel its action. “It took a petition to force U.-Va. to agree to produce the documents that by statute they should already have produced,” the group says in a statement.

The two sides are still arguing about how much the university can charge ATI to recoup the costs of searching for responsive records and preparing them for release. U.-Va. has so far told the group it will owe $8,500, a figure it has challenged in court. ATI says an opinion is expected on that issue June 15.

UPDATE 5:45 p.m.

In a statement, U.-Va. spokeswoman Carol Wood said the university has been following guidelines established by the General Assembly for responding to complex Freedom of Information Act requests. She said ATI’s request covers 34,000 faculty e-mails and the university has been working with ATI “to clarify their request and to work out a reasonably manageable process” for the documents’ release. She said the university and ATI jointly submitted to the court an order “stipulating to mutually agreeable deadlines” for release.

By  |  05:45 PM ET, 05/25/2011

 
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