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Senators target Cuccinelli's UVa probe

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Posted: Monday, January 17, 2011 9:18 pm | Updated: 12:56 pm, Mon Oct 28, 2013.

Two Democratic state senators are proposing to change state law to thwart Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s efforts to investigate a former University of Virginia professor’s research on global warming.

The proposed legislation would repeal sections of Virginia law that give the state’s attorney general authority to issue civil investigative demands, similar to subpoenas, to gather documents in relation to a civil investigation conducted by the office.

The bill is in response to efforts by Cuccinelli, a Republican, to investigate possible fraud by former UVa professor Michael Mann in relation to five taxpayer-funded research grants between 1999 and 2005.

The senators, A. Donald McEachin and J. Chapman Petersen, will meet this morning with Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, at the Capitol to discuss the legislation.

“This particular statute has been used to get at an issue that would be discussed more appropriately by scientists, not legislators or elected officials. This bill would repeal the whole statute. I’m not sure it has to go that far, but that’s what the bill seeks,” Toscano said.

Officials in Cuccinelli’s office said they have not seen the bill and cannot comment until they get a chance to read it.

Cuccinelli is a climate-change skeptic who, as state attorney general, has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its ruling that greenhouse gases are dangerous and that human activity has contributed to global warming.

Mann’s research supported the theory and helped determine ways to measure global temperatures over time. He is now the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

Cuccinelli used the civil investigative demands in May and again in October as part of his investigation into Mann’s work on “global scale temperature patterns.”

The investigative demands claim Mann may have defrauded the commonwealth when seeking grants by including in his resume two papers that “have come under significant criticism” for “a complete lack of rigor regarding the statistical analysis of the alleged data.”

According to court documents, Cuccinelli sought “all documents that constitute or are in any way related to correspondence, messages or e-mails” between Mann and 15 UVa departments; between Mann and 40 researchers; to and from Mann regarding those 40 researchers; and e-mails between “all research assistants, secretaries or administrative staff” with whom Mann worked while at UVa.

Cuccinelli first gave UVa the demands in May, three months after filing a petition with the EPA to reconsider the agency’s findings regarding the causes and dangers of greenhouse gases.

“Due to the EPA’s findings, the Commonwealth of Virginia will suffer economically,” Cuccinelli wrote to the agency in February. “The EPA failed to consider the resulting economic impacts of its endangerment finding.”

UVa appealed the demands in August to Albemarle County District Court Judge Paul M. Peatross, who threw out Cuccinelli’s effort to get the documents. Cuccinelli re-filed in September and UVa again appealed the demand, promising to use private money to fund the court fight. The issue is now before the Virginia Supreme Court.

In a Supreme Court filing, UVa lawyers argued that Cuccinelli’s new demands are the same as those tossed out by Peatross.

“They may represent [Cuccinelli’s] view on a scientific, academic debate. What they do not do is describe conduct constituting an alleged violation of [the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act],” the UVa document states.

Toscano said he and the senators filing the legislation believe Cuccinelli’s efforts to get Mann’s information, and to fight global warming issues, should not be taxpayer funded.

“There are 50 scientific organizations in 50 countries all around the world that came to the same conclusion,” Toscano said. “This is really an inappropriate use of tax dollars.”