The Washington Post

Prince William climate change debate centers on FOIA

Attorney David W. Schnare, lead counsel in the effort to obtain 12,000 climate change-related e-mails from the University of Virginia. (American Tradition Institute)

In Prince William County Circuit Court, Rep. Bob Marshall and the American Tradition Institute filed a Freedom of Information Act challenge to U.Va., which had claimed that about 12,000 e-mails written by climate researcher Michael Mann were exempt from FOIA. The ATI, represented by Northern Virginia lawyer David Schnare, is arguing that not only are the e-mails public record, but that U.Va. waived any exemptions by providing the e-mails to Mann, who now works at Penn State University. Retired Arlington Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan will hear argument on Monday.

Schnare cites President Dwight Eisenhower’s famed “military-industrial complex” warning speech, where Eisenhower also said, “we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” Schnare argues that the e-mails are public property under state FOIA law and that “without their release, the marketplace of ideas is poorer and cannot benefit from the new investigator whose creativity may be sparked by the unused thought of the earlier generation.”

Kathi Westcott, senior counsel to the American Association of University Professors, writes that using such e-mails “to selectively divert portions of academic communications...has a chilling effect on future academic work. This hurts all of us.” She added that “These types of ‘behind the scenes’ communications allow faculty members to refine their work and ultimately publish that information which has been peer reviewed and found to be sound.”

The full debate is here.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.

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