The average cost to hire an attorney in the United States is around $300 per hour. The average lawsuit, not including class action or mass tort cases, takes between one and two years to reach a conclusion. These financial and time-related costs quickly become a huge burden for anyone on the receiving end of a subpoena, and that's why climate change denial groups are using the court system as a means to put the brakes on the work of climate scientists.
Leading the way in this new attack is the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E), a climate science denial organization that receives funding from fossil fuel companies like Peabody Coal, Arch Coal, and Alpha Natural Resources, according to The Guardian.
Recently, the group filed a lawsuit in Arizona to get their hands on thousands of emails between climate scientists, with this particular lawsuit focused on the emails sent by Dr. Malcolm Hughes from the University of Arizona and Dr. Jonathan Overpeck, the lead author of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The lawsuit is seeking 6 years of Dr. Hughes' emails and 13 years of Dr. Overpeck's emails.
E&E Legal had previously tried to file a lawsuit against Dr. Michael Mann in the state of Virginia, but the Virginia Supreme Court denied that case, so the group simply moved on to scientists in other states with courts that were friendlier to corporations.
The real atrocity here is that E&E is not looking to discredit these scientists or to disprove their research. The only goal that the organization has is to take up so much of the scientists' time that they cannot focus on doing their climate research. Because that science would be damaging to the funders of E&E.
That's not speculation, either: That is what the group and their attorneys have said, as The Guardian reports:
In court filings, E&E acknowledges it seeks emails that, in its words, "embarrass both Professors Hughes and Overpeck and the University." These smear tactics serve no role in scientific discourse, but are an attempt to distract, disrupt, and intimidate legitimate researchers.
E&E's attorney also claimed that female scientists may, according to him, go on "mommy sabbatical" and then ignore their publicly-funded research in lieu of "sitting around folding clothes." Given this risk, E&E argued that when scientists "abandon" their duties, emails regarding unpublished research should be released so that others can take over their work. E&E did not explain how to determine what has been "abandoned."