NASA has been slapped with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit alleging that the agency has tried to cover up mistakes in data that have been widely used to support claims of global warming.
In an 18-page complaint filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Competitive Enterprise Institute says that, in 2007 and 2008, it submitted, but not yet received adequate responses to, FOIA requests seeking NASA documents and information related to changes made to NASA’s temperature data in response to questions raised by Steven McIntyre. McIntyre runs Climate Audit, a blog devoted to the analysis and discussion of climate data.
The complaint says McIntyre discovered errors in NASA’s data that resulted in an overstatement of the amount that temperatures have risen in the United States since 2000. Those erroneous data, the complaint says, have been used by NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies to make claims in the media that temperatures in the United States have risen dramatically during the past 10 years. Among those claims was that 1998 was the “hottest” year on record.
CEI, which is being represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Andrew Tulumello pro bono, alleges in the complaint that, once the errors were pointed out in August 2007, NASA made a series of changes to the data and then “sought to reverse-engineer the temperature data so that 1998 could again be deemed the warmest year on record.”
On Aug. 24, 2007, CEI filed its first FOIA request with NASA, seeking information about the changes. Three days later, CEI filed a second FOIA request, this time asking for all documents generated in response to the first FOIA request.
The complaint alleges that a year passed before NASA responded to the FOIA requests, and that when it did respond it was to say that “the requested information has been forwarded to the Office of the Chief Counsel for review.” Two and a half years passed before CEI received a partial response to its FOIA requests. According to the complaint, the documents that were turned over were “heavily redacted.”
On Jan. 28, 2008, CEI filed a third FOIA request seeking records related to work done by NASA scientists on a Web site called RealClimate.org. According to the complaint, NASA scientists, including climate researcher Gavin Schmidt, had been writing posts on the site during the work day that were, in effect, “public relations and advocacy” for NASA. The complaint alleges that after the FOIA request pointed out that some posts were being put up during the work day, all timestamps on the posts were removed from the site and its archives.
NASA’s delays in responding to the FOIA requests prompted Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) to call for an investigation by the agency’s inspector general on Dec. 3, 2009. The inspector general’s investigation determined that the delays were caused by “inadequate direction given...as to what documents were requested and a due date for a response”; “inadequate communication”; and “inadequate staffing at the Goddard FOIA office.”
The complaint requests a court order that directs NASA to comply with the three FOIA requests and to cover CEI’s legal fees.
Tulumello said he got involved in the case when he saw press reports about the FOIA delays. He said he called CEI and offered to represent the group in a FOIA lawsuit.
“This is an incredibly important issue for the country. There is cap and trade legislation in Congress right now, and the public has a right to know whether the government’s data on climate change is accurate and can be trusted,” said Tulumello. “All we’re looking for in this case is for a government agency to comply with the requests for information that were filed almost three years ago.”