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The Daily Need

Virginia AG recycles old claims in new climate change probe

Research by prominent climatologist Michael Mann is the subject of an investigation by Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli. Photo: Greg Rico

The Virginia attorney general has issued a new civil subpoena in his effort to obtain records related to the research of a prominent climate scientist at the University of Virginia, after failing to convince a state judge in August that the investigation should proceed.

The attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, had been investigating a former University of Virginia climatologist, Michael Mann, for possibly defrauding taxpayers with false research. A judge initially dismissed the request, saying Cuccinelli had failed to present “a reason to believe” that Mann had misled the public. But the judge also allowed Cuccinelli to rework his subpoena to comply with state law, and on Monday the attorney general issued a new request, or “civil investigative demand,” that he said satisfied the judge’s concerns.

The attorney general’s office said in a statement that the new subpoena was narrower in scope and contained information the judge had requested in his August ruling. But Cuccinelli also insisted that his office would continue to appeal the original ruling, in the hope that the broader request for records — including e-mails and other private documents — would ultimately succeed.

“While the CID was drafted to comply with the judge’s ruling, we do not believe that the ruling was correct in all of its particulars,” Cuccinelli said. “Accordingly, we have noted that we will appeal the ruling while continuing our ongoing investigation.”

University of Virginia officials said in August that they had fully expected Cuccinelli to continue his investigation, and vowed again on Tuesday to continue fighting the subpoena. Mann, who called the probe “criminal harassment” in an interview with Need to Know in August, issued a statement this week calling the new subpoena “disturbing” and accusing Cuccinelli of using taxpayer dollars to “pursue a partisan witch hunt,” according to The Virginian-Pilot.

Cuccinelli said his new subpoena was designed to resolve the concerns of Albemarle County Judge Paul Peatross, who ruled in August that the attorney general’s first request for records failed to provide sufficient evidence for the claim that Mann’s research was  “misleading, false or fraudulent.”

But the subpoena issued this week recycles many of the same claims contained in his original request, including accusations that Mann’s well-known “hockey stick” graph, which documented rising global temperatures in the industrial era, was based on false research. Mann has since refined the techniques used to produce the graph, and several studies — including two published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and the Journal of Geophysical Research — have used different methods to validate Mann’s claims. The National Research Council also endorsed most of Mann’s findings in a study in 2006.

Cuccinelli also again cited private e-mails that were hacked and posted online last year that seemed to implicate Mann and his colleagues in a deliberate attempt to mislead the public about global warming. Specifically, Cuccinelli’s subpoena cites two phrases from the so-called “Climategate” emails — “trick” and “hide the decline” — that have become fodder for climate skeptics. But several independent studies, including one by Pennsylvania State University, Mann’s current employer, have exonerated Mann and found that the emails were taken out of context. Mann himself explained the meaning of the emails and their context in a lengthy interview with Need to Know in August.

Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement that Cuccinelli’s failure to provide any new evidence for his claims proved that his investigation was purely political, and amounted to a flagrant abuse of power.

“There’s only one reason I can think of to pursue a case where there’s no evidence — and that’s politics,” Grifo said. “The only person who is misusing Virginia taxpayers’ money is Ken Cuccinelli.”

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