Trump Adds Lawyers with History of Harassing Climate Scientists to Transition Team

“For years, David Schnare, with funding from polluting interests, has hounded me and other climate scientists, abusing open records laws in an effort to get ahold of personal emails that he might use to try to embarrass and smear us. His efforts were rejected by the lower court and then the Virginia Supreme Court, but not before many thousands of dollars were spent defending the University of Virginia and me from his frivolous lawsuits, and not before many hours I could have spent advising students, doing research, and advancing our understanding of Earth’s climate, were wasted dealing with his bad faith assaults. I find it appalling that he has been granted any role whatsoever in the transition of an agency that does so much important science.” – Dr. Michael Mann

We are deeply troubled by a large number of appointments by President-elect Trump that deny the science of climate change, and we are alarmed that he has expanded his team to include people who target individual scientists. Much attention has been focused on Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s disastrous pick for EPA Administrator, but other dangerous appointments have gone largely unnoticed: for one, David Schnare was named to the EPA transition team.

Schnare, a former EPA employee, has been a major proponent of using the legal system to harass and intimidate climate scientists. He and his colleagues have argued before courts that open records laws should permit fossil fuel-funded lawyers to sift through climate scientists’ private emails. Their goal is, purportedly, to use these emails “to convince the public to believe human-caused global warming is a scientific fraud.” In reality, they intend to scare scientists into silence.

Much of Schnare’s recent work was done as General Counsel for the coal-funded Energy & Environment Legal Institute (also known as E&E Legal and formerly known as the American Tradition Institute). Schnare and E&E Legal have gone after climate scientists in – at least – Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Update:  another coal-funded lawyer with a history of attacking climate scientists, E&E Legal senior fellow Christopher Horner, has also been added to Trump’s transition team.  CSLDF could not be more dismayed. 

CSLDF was founded partly in response to one of Schnare and Horner’s lawsuits, against climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann.  The case was rejected by the Virginia Supreme Court, which found that their proposals would cause “harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression.” (It is worth noting that when the lawsuit was initiated in 2011, Schnare was employed by the EPA – an arrangement that may have violated federal ethics laws.)

In that case and many others, E&E Legal’s claims have been shot down by courts – yet they nonetheless circumscribe scientists’ inquiry. Daunted by expensive and time-consuming legal cases, scientists may hesitate to explore climate change. Only a strong legal defense fund can mitigate such strategies.

In all of Schnare and Horner’s cases, the justifications for opening scientists’ private records are dubious; in some, they are offensive. As part of one ongoing suit to obtain climate scientists’ emails, Schnare argued that female scientists may take, in his words, a “mommy sabbatical” and then ignore their publicly-funded research in lieu of “sitting around folding clothes.”  Given this risk, Schnare claimed, scientists’ “abandoned” emails regarding “preliminary unpublished work” should be released to the public. Were this scheme to come to fruition, it would expose these women scientists to sexist and anti-scientific fishing expeditions during maternity leave, and seriously hamstring their research efforts.

In 2012, Schnare filed a lawsuit challenging EPA-funded studies of human exposure to airborne particulates, claiming those studies were equivalent to the Nazi experiments on Jews during the Holocaust. The judge dismissed the suit at the first opportunity. Once again, Schnare proved only that he would use any pretense to suffocate scientific thought and advance fossil fuel interests.

Perhaps most perplexingly, Schnare once sued Dog News for defamation and emotional distress, over an article on the classification of Labrador retrievers that mentioned him, which was also dismissed and affirmed by the Fourth Circuit.

Schnare and Horner join a transition that not only rejects the scientific evidence for climate change, but has other members involved in legal bullying to go after climate scientists. Myron Ebell, in charge of the EPA transition team, comes from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, another major player in dragging climate scientists into court.  (In addition to his role at E&E Legal, Christopher Horner is also a senior fellow at CEI.) And Trump’s chief of staff, Steve Bannon, himself comes from Breitbart News – a so-called “alt-right” site that has approvingly covered many of the court cases harassing climate scientists.  Meanwhile, for the NASA transition team, Trump has named Chris Shank, a staffer for the House Science committee chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX); in recent years, the committee has held multiple hearings aiming to discredit climate science and subpoenaed climate scientists’ emails when their research shows that climate change is, in fact, happening.

Schnare and Horner, along with their colleagues at E&E Legal, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and similar groups have spent years attempting to use the legal system to attack climate scientists. We can’t put into words how strongly we feel that those who have attacked individual scientists should not be involved in the management of federal agencies that employ some of this country’s best researchers.

CSLDF was created to protect scientists, their research, and their freedom of inquiry from pernicious attacks. In this new political environment, our work has become more important than ever.

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