NASA Moves to Quash FOIA Lawsuit, CEI Fights for Public Access

Washington, D.C., November 4, 2010 — NASA continues to block the right of US citizens to gain access to tax-funded global warming research and communications. On Wednesday, in a lawsuit initiated by the Competitive Enterprise Institute in May, 2010, CEI filed its opposition to NASA’s motion for summary judgment.

The lawsuit seeks documents and emails relating to NASA’s temperature record, which NASA was forced to correct in response to criticism from a leading climate watchdog, Steve McIntrye. Those corrections destroyed the position that temperatures have been steadily rising in recent years and revealed that 1934, not 1998, the warmest year on record. NASA refuses to give CEI the computer file they used to make these changes.

The lawsuit also seeks emails from NASA scientists using – a third-party website – on official time, using official resources.

“The requested information pertains directly to issues of national significance, including the integrity of “warming” claims NASA makes about U.S. and global temperatures and the extent to which NASA scientists have utilized a third-party advocacy ‘blog’ to respond to and attack critics of the agency,” CEI’s opposition explains.

Prior to the lawsuit, CEI had made 3 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, initiated in August 2007 and originally seeking internal documents about NASA improperly boosting U.S. temperature data in this decade.

A few compelling questions and pieces of information:

  • Why did NASA delete timestamps off the website? After CEI filed the FOIA seeking RealClimate emails, administrators at Real Climate deleted all timestamps on all of their postings, making it impossible to show they were made during work hours.
  • NASA admits that it discovered 3,500 emails on the computer used by Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a taxpayer-funded NASA researcher who spends working hours running and writing for RealClimate. But NASA refuses to produce the emails.
  • Why did NASA delay? NASA did not ask Dr. Schmidt to look for responsive records until 22 months after we sent them the FOIA and threatened to sue. It is highly likely relevant emails were destroyed during this period.
  • Furthermore, NASA took more than 900 days to produce documents pursuant to CEI’s two 2007 requests. The agency took more than 700 days to produce records in response to CEI’s 2008 request. NASA does not explain these delays. FOIA requires that an agency produce responsive records within 20 days. Although agencies rarely meet that deadline, even for “complex” FOIA requests, NASA’s average processing time is under 100 days. In 2008, NASA processed complex requests in 82 days, on average. In 2009, it processed such requests in 89 days, on average.

CEI is represented by Andrew S. Tulumello of Gibson Dunn, which is handling the lawsuit pro bono.

> View the lawsuit, Competitive Enterprise Institute v. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

> Read background on the NASA FOIA request

> Read CEI’s Opposition to NASA’s Motion for Summary Judgment – November 3, 2010

> Read more from CEI Senior Fellow Christopher Horner