A lawyer who has used intimidating legal requests to try to gain access to the records and emails of climate scientists has a financial relationship with a major coal company, it has been revealed.
Christopher Horner, who works with two groups to pursue scientists and environmental regulators, is listed in the bankruptcy papers filed by lawyers on behalf of Alpha Natural Resources and its 150 subsidiary companies in the coal industry.
The Heartland Institute, a “free market think tank” and major promoter of fringe views that greenhouse gases are not a problem for the planet, is also named in the papers, as are other key groups.
Investigative journalist Lee Fang, of news website The Intercept founded by lawyer and journalist Glenn Greenwald, first reported the links in two stories.
Scientists who have been targeted by Horner said they are not surprised to hear a coal company has helped to finance the attacks against them.
Horner, whose private Virginia address is listed in the papers, is senior clinical attorney at the Free Market Environmental Law Center (FMELC), which is also named in the bankruptcy papers.
FMELC says it “seeks to provide a counter-weight to the litigious environmental movement that fosters an economically destructive regulatory regime in the United States.”
The filing lists the names of thousands of organisations, people and other entities with a financial relationship with the coal group. The listing does not detail any amounts owed or paid.
Horner didn’t respond to queries from reporter Lee Fang, but FMELC director David Schnare said almost all donors to his group asked for anonymity.
Scientists targeted by the efforts of Horner and FMELC include Penn State University’s Professor Michael Mann, former NASA climate scientist Dr James Hansen, Texas Tech University scientist Associate Professor Katherine Hayhoe and Texas A&M University’s Professor Andrew Dessler.
Professor Dessler told DeSmog that Horner and his group first tried to access his records in 2012, with four further requests since then.
Dessler said Horner also complained to the local District Attorney and the State’s Attorney General that he was “improperly deleting emails” but both declined to pursue those accusations. Dessler told DeSmogBlog:
It is not surprising that a coal company would support the kind of activities that Horner undertakes. It helps them attack the science, which advances their policy agenda. I think it’s also becoming apparent that most of the big players in the denial movement are indeed being paid by fossil fuel interests — via campaign contributions to sympathetic politicians and through dark-money payments to individuals and think tanks that are then used to fund useful – to them – activities. I think future generations will be disgusted by this.
At the time I do remember worrying that something I said in one of the emails would be taken out of context and they would use it to attack me and climate science. While I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, it was clear that that didn’t matter — these people care not one bit what the truth was, they only care about whether they could twist your emails to make you look bad. So, yes, I found the requests quite upsetting. But then each one has blown over and the worry fades away.
Many of those targeted have said Horner’s pursuit of their emails and records were designed to disrupt their work. The requests have been described as “fishing expeditions” where critics have said Horner had hoped to find correspondence that could be used to politicize the science or embarrass scientists.
Professor Mann, targeted by several Freedom of Information applications and records requests from Horner, told The Intercept the lawyer was “instrumental in orchestrating the attacks on climate scientists over the past decade”.
Mann said Horner’s demands were “vexatious and frivolous” and were designed to compel scientists to hand over their email inboxes.
Schnare and Horner also work together at the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, which carries out similar work but was not listed in the Alpha bankruptcy papers.
Like others incorporated as a not-for-profit group, organisations like FMELC do not have to disclose their funders.
Horner has written many columns in mainstream media outlets and has appeared regularly on television networks, in particular Fox news, to commentate on climate science issues. DeSmogBlog is not aware of Horner ever disclosing that he had received funding from fossil fuel sources either in his columns or as a television guest.
Horner is associated with a number of groups and think tanks, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Alpha announced in early August that it was applying for voluntary bankruptcy in an attempt to restructure and “enhance the company’s future as it weathers a historically challenged coal market”.
The Heartland Institute, which did not respond to a request for comment from DeSmogBlog, is known for organizing regular conferences for climate science contrarians and denialists where Horner and others deliver presentations.
Heartland once ran a billboard campaign with a picture of Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski and the words “I still believe in Global Warming. Do You?”
Heartland president Joe Bast said at the time:
The most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are Charles Manson, a mass murderer; Fidel Castro, a tyrant; and Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Global warming alarmists include Osama bin Laden and James J. Lee (who took hostages inside the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in 2010).
Another group named in the Alpha bankruptcy is the Institute for Energy Research. IER boss Robert Bradley defended Alpha in a 2012 column for the Huffington Post.
At the time, Alpha had sacked workers and cut coal production — a move Bradley blamed on the “special interests” of the “agenda-driven environmentalists”.
IER president Thomas Pyle said a recent decision to allow oil company Shell to drill in the Arctic was great news for American families and he wished the company “luck in their search”.
The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, another group with financial ties to Alpha, published a report in March this year attacking regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.