The New Attack On Climate Scientists: Drain Their Funds With Frivolous Lawsuits

Dispatches by
Farron Cousins 

  T The average cost to hire an attorney in the United States is around $300 per hour. The average lawsuit, not including class action or mass tort cases, takes between one and two years to reach a conclusion. These financial and time-related costs quickly become a huge burden for anyone on the receiving end of a subpoena, and that’s why climate change denial groups are using the court system as a means to put the brakes on the work of climate scientists. 

Leading the way in this new attack is the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E), a climate science denial organization that receives funding from fossil fuel companies like Peabody Coal, Arch Coal, and Alpha Natural Resources, according to The Guardian.

Recently, the group filed a lawsuit in Arizona to get their hands on thousands of emails between climate scientists, with this particular lawsuit focused on the emails sent by Dr. Malcolm Hughes from the University of Arizona and Dr. Jonathan Overpeck, the lead author of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The lawsuit is seeking 6 years of Dr. Hughes’ emails and 13 years of Dr. Overpeck’s emails.

E&E Legal had previously tried to file a lawsuit against Dr. Michael Mann in the state of Virginia, but the Virginia Supreme Court denied that case, so the group simply moved on to scientists in other states with courts that were friendlier to corporations.

The real atrocity here is that E&E is not looking to discredit these scientists or to disprove their research. The only goal that the organization has is to take up so much of the scientists’ time that they cannot focus on doing their climate research. Because that science would be damaging to the funders of E&E.

That’s not speculation, either: That is what the group and their attorneys have said, as The Guardian reports:

In court filings, E&E acknowledges it seeks emails that, in its words, “embarrass both Professors Hughes and Overpeck and the University.” These smear tactics serve no role in scientific discourse, but are an attempt to distract, disrupt, and intimidate legitimate researchers.

E&E’s attorney also claimed that female scientists may, according to him, go on “mommy sabbatical” and then ignore their publicly-funded research in lieu of “sitting around folding clothes.” Given this risk, E&E argued that when scientists “abandon” their duties, emails regarding unpublished research should be released so that others can take over their work. E&E did not explain how to determine what has been “abandoned.”

As The Guardian points out, E&E seems to believe that the only viable method of communication between climate scientists is telephone calls, and anything else should be public record.

The release of these emails could severely hinder the results of academic research by allowing others to hijack studies or to release incomplete information to the public before the reports have been finished or reviewed. And that is exactly what E&E is hoping to accomplish with their frivolous lawsuits.

So far, climate denial groups like E&E have lost every battle that they’ve waged, and this lawsuit initiative will likely result in stellar losses for the group, both personally and financially.

A skilled attorney could easily take the case of these scientists and use it to file a lawsuit against E&E and their funders to recover the financial losses of climate scientists, as well as seek reimbursement for the time spent dealing with the suit instead of dealing with academic research. (Dr. Hughes spent no fewer than 10 weeks gathering up his emails, time that would have otherwise been spent performing research that his University received money to do.)

Let’s hope that somewhere there’s an attorney filling out paperwork to give E&E a taste of their own medicine.


Farron-Cousins Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.  

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