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Court grants appeal in climate case with FOIA issues

uva_rotunda2-silA battle over disclosure of climate research documents could produce new law on the public’s right to access government records in Virginia.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear three freedom-of-information issues arising from efforts by conservatives to examine the basis of climate change studies at the University of Virginia.

Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan ruled last year that many emails from climate researcher Michael Mann were exempt from disclosure under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

The records were sought by the American Tradition Institute, a group which rejects the assertion by Mann and other scientists that carbon gas emissions are responsible for global climate change.

The Supreme Court Monday agreed to consider when university documents are considered “proprietary,” whether U.Va. could charge for reviewing documents, and whether the school met its burden of showing the retained records met the standard for exclusion under the FOIA.

Sheridan ruled last September after examining a number of examples of withheld emails between Mann and other scientists discussing climate research. U.Va. produced about 1,800 emails in response to the request, but claimed another 12,000 emails were exempt because they were of a “proprietary nature” under the FOIA law.

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