NASA, Global Warming and the Freedom of Information Act
A theme of this blog has been an exploration of the broad and varied powers of civil courts, over and above the mere awarding of monetary damages in lawsuits. Civil courts also have the power to require persons, corporations and governmental entities to comply with the obligations imposed on them by law. Compliance with Freedom of Information Act requests has been a frequent source of civil litigation.
In 2011 the American Tradition Institute (“ATI”) sued NASA in federal court in Washington, D.C. The suit was filed seeking a court order requiring NASA to produce various documents pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).
ATI’s Complaint describes it as a “research and educational foundation…dedicated to advancing responsible, economically sustainable environmental policy”. It claimed that its Environmental Law Center maintains a “transparency initiative seeking records relating to environmental and particularly climate change science and policy”. ATI’s target in the suit NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (“GISS”) which, according to ATI, identified itself as a “leading center of atmospheric modeling and of climate change”.
The suit sought the production of documents pertaining to NASA employee James Hansen, reflecting on “whether he and NASA have complied with certain…financial disclosure, reporting and other ethics-related obligations”. ATI claimed that it requested production of the documents under the FOIA, but that NASA refused to produce them.
The Complaint described Hansen as an astronomer at GISS who had “become the most prominent voice on climate-related policy within the federal government”. It went on to claim that he had, since 2007, increased his outside activities, including (1) speeches, (2) serving as an expert witness in support of defendants tried for trespass and destruction of private property in the name of climate civil disobedience, and (3) promoting and participating in protests of coal plants. Hansen allegedly claimed that his statements were made “on behalf of the planet, of life on Earth, including all species”. ATI also alleged that Hansen “was packaged for the media by (George) Soros’ flagship philanthropy”.
NASA apparently denied portions of the ATI’s FOIA records request for records regarding Hansen’s “outside employment”.
NASA filed an answer to the lengthy complaint. Shortly thereafter, the United States filed a document notifying the court that, after interagency discussions, it had been determined that the documents pertaining to Hansen’s outside employment should be released (with certain redactions) to ATI. Case closed!