Non-profit

Climate Science Legal Defense Fund

Website:

www.csldf.org

Location:

NEW YORK, NY

Tax ID:

47-1941171

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2017):

Revenue: $584,817
Expenses: $320,948
Assets: $569,330

Executive Director:

Lauren Kurtz

Formation:

2011

The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) is a left-of-center nonprofit which provides educational materials and pro-bono legal services to climate scientists facing legal action. The CSLDF has defended left-of-center climate scientists in some of the most high-profile climate lawsuits in the past decade, including the “Climategate” suit against Michael Mann and the dispute between Marie Caffrey and the National Park Service.

Aside from litigation, the CSLDF is most known for its “Silencing Science Tracker,” built in collaboration with the Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. The tracker was published in response to the election of President Donald Trump and purports to track government “silencing” of climate scientists, based on ambiguous criteria.

History

The CSLDF was founded in 2011 by Scott Mandia, Joshua Wolfe, and Charles Zeller with the intent of providing legal services to climate scientists, specifically motivated by a lawsuit against Michael Mann, an atmospheric scientist who was then employed by the University of Virginia. [1] Mann was the primary target of “Climategate,” which occurred in November 2009 when hackers released hundreds of private email exchanges and documents between climate scientists from 1996-2009. [2] Skeptics of Mann’s climate change theories or aligned environmentalist policies who read the emails concluded that several statements revealed that climate scientists had manipulated the data to exaggerate the effects of human beings on climate change. [3]

Skeptics alleged that Mann “tricked” the public into believing in climate change by adding data to a series which appeared to show rapidly escalating rates of change. [4] The allegations led Mann to face a congressional investigation, two inquiries from Pennsylvania State University, petitions to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and an investigation by the National Science Foundation. [5] Mann was cleared of all charges but faced a further lawsuit in 2011 by the Energy and Environmental Legal Institute (E&E), a group that argues against the existence of human-caused climate change. [6]

The original intent of the CSLDF was to raise money to cover Mann’s legal fees, and the group raised over $100,000 for his case, which Mann eventually won before the Virginia Supreme Court in 2014. [7] Following the win, left-of-center climate scientists Jeff Masters and Naomi Oreskes joined the organization, and the CSLDF expanded to add legal education services for climate scientists in an attempt to push back on the “silencing” of climate scientists. [8]

Today, the CSLDF provides pro bono legal services to climate scientists, in addition to educating researchers about their legal rights, sharing strategy with outside attorneys, and publishing actions which they deem to be “attacks on science” to raise awareness. [9] The CSLDF matches researchers with pro bono legal representation, in addition to filing amici curiae briefs in relevant cases. [10] The group defends scientists in lawsuits which the CSLDF deems to be “frivolous.” [11] It also leads workshops, webinars, and publish materials to give scientists a legal education, working in the past with left-of-center organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union. [12]

Litigation and Advocacy

The CSLDF has provided legal aid in some of the most high-profile climate science cases in the past ten years. In 2016, Marie Caffrey was a climate scientist with the National Park Service who published a four year study on the future of 118 national parks under various potential greenhouse gas emissions situations. [13] The report pushed the idea that humans are responsible for climate change, and in 2017, the senior leadership at the NPS decided to remove references to human causes of climate change from Caffrey’s report. [14]

Caffrey refused to accept the changes, at which point the NPS claimed that NPS would publish the report with the changes without her approval, release the report without naming Caffrey, or withhold the report entirely. [15] Caffrey’s report was eventually published containing all of the original references to human causes of climate change in May 2018. [16] In spite of the fact that the report was published as Caffrey wrote it, the CSLDF encouraged Caffrey to file a scientific integrity complaint that alleged the NPS has attempted to “censor” her report in June 2018. [17] The NPS dismissed the complaint. [18]

Seven months later, Caffrey was fired from the NPS after a series of funding cuts. [19] The CSLDF argued that the cuts to funding and eventual termination of Caffrey’s employment were a result of her previous complaints and helped Caffrey to file a whistleblower complaint against the Trump administration that remains ongoing as of early 2020. [20]

In 2015, E&E attorney Christopher Horner and the libertarian advocacy group Competitive Enterprise Institute sued climate communications professor Edward Maibach for thousands of pages of emails, and the CSLDF represented Maibach. [21] The group appealed to intervene in the litigation, but the judge ruled that Maibach lacked jurisdiction, causing the release of thousands of pages of Maibach’s emails. [22]

Also in 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology led by then-U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) subpoenaed all documents and communications related to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study that disputed a hypothesized global warming “hiatus” since 1998. [23] NOAA refused to provide the subpoenaed documents, and the CSLDF defended their actions, claiming that any request for private researcher communications was a “politically-motivated attack.” [24]

Following NOAA’s refusal to comply with the subpoena, Judicial Watch, a right-of-center group that routinely files Freedom of Information Act requests, filed a lawsuit against NOAA in December of 2015 when NOAA refused to turn over emails, drafts, and peer reviews of the study in question. [25] The CSLDF defended NOAA, and the Washington, D.C. District Court ruled in NOAA’s favor in August 2017. [26] [27]

In 2019, the CSLDF came out in support of the Scientific Integrity Act, a bill in the House of Representatives designed to force federal science agencies to adopt and uphold a legal scientific integrity policy. [28] The bill would prohibit members of scientific agencies from misrepresenting or fabricating scientific evidence or engaging in any other form of scientific and research misconduct. [29] The bill further prohibits any delaying of the release of scientific or technical findings, unless on subjective grounds of scientific merit. [30] In October 2019, the bill was approved by a vote of 25-6 in the House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. [31]

Amicus Briefs, Counseling, and Education

The CSLDF has provided numerous amici curiae briefs in climate change-related cases, in addition to being frequently cited in the news supporting left-of-center climate initiatives. In October 2019, the Trump administration Department of Justice filed a complaint against California’s carbon-trading agreement with Quebec as an unconstitutional treaty that interferes with United States foreign commerce. [32] August Wilson, a CSLDF attorney, wrote a brief in 2017 on how California could maintain such an agreement through legal loopholes, despite acknowledging that the agreement may be subject to a substantial legal threat. [33]

In February 2019, legislators in the California State Assembly introduced legislation which would modify the California Public Records Act to exclude researcher communications from public records requests. [34] The CSLDF came out in support of the reform, arguing that it would protect critical research interests from special interest groups. [35] This stance has been criticized by even left-of-center organizations such as the Washington Post, which has argued that scientists should be subject to freedom of information laws, including with respect to their email correspondences. [36]

The CSLDF also frequently provides amicus briefs in cases which it deems to be “frivolous” lawsuits aimed at intimidating climate scientists. [37] After losing Mann’s case in Virginia, E&E sued Mann’s coauthor at the University of Arizona, Malcom Hughes. [38] E&E also sued for emails from Jonathan Overpeck, also at the University of Arizona, who served as lead author of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). [39] CSLDF submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the professors and the University of Arizona, who eventually lost their case after a successful request for a rehearing. [40]

The CSLDF also takes preemptive actions to educate federally funded scientists on their rights, specifically when it comes to attempting to influence public policy. The CSLDF publishes “Advocating for Science in a Politicized Environment,” a guide to help federally funded scientists and researchers influence legislation without directly violating lobbying statutes. [41] The CSLDF publishes several of these “pocket guides” for climate scientists. [42]

Silencing Science Tracker

The CSLDF runs an extensive public education campaign in an attempt to expose perceived local, state, and federal government restrictions of information that the CSLDF deems to be good science. The cornerstone of this campaign is the “Silencing Science Tracker,” launched in collaboration with the Columbia University Law School Sabin Center for Climate Change Law in the wake of the November 2016 presidential election. [43] Since November 2016, the tracker has alleged over 380 “violations” of scientific freedom under the Trump administration. [44]

CSLDF and the Sabin Center define seven broad categories of actions that “silence” scientists, including what they consider to be overt government censorship, research hindrance, misrepresentation of data, and interference with scientific education on religious grounds or otherwise. [45] The tracker also includes nebulous categories such as self-censorship, budget cuts, and personnel changes. [46] The Silencing Science Tracker presents extremely broad criteria for what counts as “silencing,” including a scientist voluntarily changing the content of his websites and research documents, reduced government funding for scientific research, and the removal of scientists from government positions. [47]

The ambiguity of such categories has caused the CSLDF to claim things like the changing of the name of the EPA program “Climate Ready Water Utilities” to “Creating Resilient Water Utilities” is an example of the Trump Administration silencing science. [48]

People and Funding

All of the CSLDF’s funding comes from fundraising, grants, and individual contributions. [49] As of 2012, the left-of-center Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has provided financial backing and logistical support to the organization. [50]

The CSLDF has an influential list of supporters, including Broadway figure Lin-Manuel Miranda and his wife, climate attorney Vanessa Nadal. [51] The board consists of prominent left-of-center climate scientists, including founders Joshua Wolfe, Charles Zeller, and Scott Mandia. [52] All three of the group’s founding directors are tied to left-of-center organizations, with Wolfe receiving the Ansel Adams Award from the Sierra Club, Mandia receiving the Ambassador Award from the American Geographical Union, and Zeller serving on the board of Organizing for Action, the successor organization to President Barack Obama’s campaign committees. [53]

The board is also home to prominent left-of-center academics, including Harvard professor and author of Merchants of Doubt Naomi Oreskes, founder of weather forecasting website Weather Underground Jeff Masters, and climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. [54] High-powered appellate attorney Andrew Frey also sits on the board. [55]

References

  1. “Our Mission.” Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://www.csldf.org/about/mission/. ^
  2. Hickman, Leo, and James Randerson. “Climate Sceptics Claim Leaked Emails Are Evidence of Collusion among Scientists.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, November 20, 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/nov/20/climate-sceptics-hackers-leaked-emails. ^
  3. Hickman, Leo, and James Randerson. “Climate Sceptics Claim Leaked Emails Are Evidence of Collusion among Scientists.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, November 20, 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/nov/20/climate-sceptics-hackers-leaked-emails. ^
  4. Pendergrass, Drew. “Inside the Climate Science Witch Hunts.” Harvard Political Review,

    March 24, 2017. https://harvardpolitics.com/culture/inside-the-climate-science-witch-hunts/. ^

  5. Pendergrass, Drew. “Inside the Climate Science Witch Hunts.” Harvard Political Review,

    March 24, 2017. https://harvardpolitics.com/culture/inside-the-climate-science-witch-hunts/. ^

  6. Kurtz, Lauren. “Climate Scientists Are under Attack from Frivolous Lawsuits.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, July 7, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jul/07/climate-scientists-are-under-attack-from-frivolous-lawsuits. ^
  7. “Our Mission.” Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://www.csldf.org/about/mission/. ^
  8. “Our Mission.” Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://www.csldf.org/about/mission/. ^
  9. “Our Mission.” Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://www.csldf.org/about/mission/. ^
  10. “Our Mission.” Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://www.csldf.org/about/mission/. ^
  11. “Our Mission.” Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://www.csldf.org/about/mission/. ^
  12. “Our Mission.” Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://www.csldf.org/about/mission/. ^
  13. Masters, Jeff. “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund Fights for Whistle-Blowing Climate Scientist.” Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American, December 2, 2019. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/eye-of-the-storm/climate-science-legal-defense-fund-fights-for-whistle-blowing-climate-scientist/. ^
  14. Masters, Jeff. “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund Fights for Whistle-Blowing Climate Scientist.” Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American, December 2, 2019. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/eye-of-the-storm/climate-science-legal-defense-fund-fights-for-whistle-blowing-climate-scientist/. ^
  15. Masters, Jeff. “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund Fights for Whistle-Blowing Climate Scientist.” Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American, December 2, 2019. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/eye-of-the-storm/climate-science-legal-defense-fund-fights-for-whistle-blowing-climate-scientist/. ^
  16. Masters, Jeff. “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund Fights for Whistle-Blowing Climate Scientist.” Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American, December 2, 2019. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/eye-of-the-storm/climate-science-legal-defense-fund-fights-for-whistle-blowing-climate-scientist/. ^
  17. Masters, Jeff. “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund Fights for Whistle-Blowing Climate Scientist.” Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American, December 2, 2019. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/eye-of-the-storm/climate-science-legal-defense-fund-fights-for-whistle-blowing-climate-scientist/. ^
  18. Masters, Jeff. “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund Fights for Whistle-Blowing Climate Scientist.” Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American, December 2, 2019. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/eye-of-the-storm/climate-science-legal-defense-fund-fights-for-whistle-blowing-climate-scientist/. ^
  19. Masters, Jeff. “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund Fights for Whistle-Blowing Climate Scientist.” Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American, December 2, 2019. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/eye-of-the-storm/climate-science-legal-defense-fund-fights-for-whistle-blowing-climate-scientist/. ^
  20. Masters, Jeff. “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund Fights for Whistle-Blowing Climate Scientist.” Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American, December 2, 2019. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/eye-of-the-storm/climate-science-legal-defense-fund-fights-for-whistle-blowing-climate-scientist/. ^
  21. Kurtz, Lauren. “Climate Scientists Are under Attack from Frivolous Lawsuits.” The Guardian.

    Guardian News and Media, July 7, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jul/07/climate-scientists-are-under-attack-from-frivolous-lawsuits. ^

  22. Kurtz, Lauren. “Climate Scientists Are under Attack from Frivolous Lawsuits.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, July 7, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jul/07/climate-scientists-are-under-attack-from-frivolous-lawsuits. ^
  23. Song, Lisa. “NOAA Stiff-Arms House Science Committee Subpoena Questioning ‘Hiatus’ Study.” InsideClimate News, March 3, 2017. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27102015/noaa-house-science-committee-subpoena-global-warming-hiatus-lamar-smith. ^
  24. Song, Lisa. “NOAA Stiff-Arms House Science Committee Subpoena Questioning ‘Hiatus’ Study.” InsideClimate News, March 3, 2017. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27102015/noaa-house-science-committee-subpoena-global-warming-hiatus-lamar-smith. ^
  25. Johnson, Scott K. “NOAA Gets Judge to Agree That Its Scientists’ E-Mails Are Protected.” Ars Technica, September 12, 2017. https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/09/judge-rejects-foia-suit-seeking-government-climate-scientists-e-mails/. ^
  26. Mandel, Charles. “When Climate Deniers Harass Scientists, These Guys Come to the Rescue.” National Observer, January 29, 2016. https://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/01/29/news/when-climate-deniers-harass-scientists-these-guys-come-rescue. ^
  27. Johnson, Scott K. “NOAA Gets Judge to Agree That Its Scientists’ E-Mails Are Protected.”

    Ars Technica, September 12, 2017. https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/09/judge-rejects-foia-suit-seeking-government-climate-scientists-e-mails/. ^

  28. Lavelle, Marianne, and Georgina Gustin. “Top CDC Health and Climate Scientist Files Whistleblower Complaint.” InsideClimate News, August 16, 2019. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/16082019/cdc-scientist-whistleblower-complaint-climate-health-research-trump-usda-epa. ^
  29. Showstack, Randy. “Scientific Integrity Act Passes House Committee.” Eos, October 18, 2019. https://eos.org/articles/scientific-integrity-act-passes-house-committee. ^
  30. Showstack, Randy. “Scientific Integrity Act Passes House Committee.” Eos, October 18, 2019. https://eos.org/articles/scientific-integrity-act-passes-house-committee. ^
  31. Showstack, Randy. “Scientific Integrity Act Passes House Committee.” Eos, October 18, 2019. https://eos.org/articles/scientific-integrity-act-passes-house-committee. ^
  32. Gillmer, Ellen M. “Trump’s Latest California Swipe Wades Into Murky Legal Territory.” Bloomberg BNA News, October 29, 2019. https://news.bloombergenvironment.com/environment-and-energy/trumps-latest-california-swipe-wades-into-murky-legal-territory. ^
  33. Gillmer, Ellen M. “Trump’s Latest California Swipe Wades Into Murky Legal Territory.” Bloomberg BNA News, October 29, 2019. https://news.bloombergenvironment.com/environment-and-energy/trumps-latest-california-swipe-wades-into-murky-legal-territory. ^
  34. Halpern, Michael. “Corporations and Activists Are Exploiting Open Records Laws. California Is Trying to Change That.” Union of Concerned Scientists, February 22, 2019. https://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-halpern/corporations-and-activists-are-exploiting-open-records-laws-california-is-trying-to-change-that. ^
  35. Halpern, Michael. “Corporations and Activists Are Exploiting Open Records Laws. California Is Trying to Change That.” Union of Concerned Scientists, February 22, 2019. https://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-halpern/corporations-and-activists-are-exploiting-open-records-laws-california-is-trying-to-change-that. ^
  36. Milman, Oliver. “Climate Scientists Face Harassment, Threats and Fears of ‘McCarthyist Attacks’.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, February 22, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/22/climate-change-science-attacks-threats-trump. ^
  37. Kurtz, Lauren. “Climate Scientists Are under Attack from Frivolous Lawsuits.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, July 7, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jul/07/climate-scientists-are-under-attack-from-frivolous-lawsuits. ^
  38. Kurtz, Lauren. “Climate Scientists Are under Attack from Frivolous Lawsuits.” The Guardian.

    Guardian News and Media, July 7, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jul/07/climate-scientists-are-under-attack-from-frivolous-lawsuits. ^

  39. Kurtz, Lauren. “Climate Scientists Are under Attack from Frivolous Lawsuits.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, July 7, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jul/07/climate-scientists-are-under-attack-from-frivolous-lawsuits. ^
  40. Kurtz, Lauren. “Climate Scientists Are under Attack from Frivolous Lawsuits.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, July 7, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jul/07/climate-scientists-are-under-attack-from-frivolous-lawsuits. ^
  41. “CSLDF Pocket Guide to Advocating for Science in a Politicized Environment.” Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://www.csldf.org/download/pocket-guide-to-advocating-for-science-in-a-politicized-environment/ ^
  42. Kurtz, Lauren. “Defending Climate Science: 10 Things That Every Scientist Should Consider.” Countercurrents, December 11, 2016. https://countercurrents.org/2016/12/defending-climate-science-10-things-that-every-scientist-should-consider. ^
  43. “About the Silencing Science Tracker.” Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://climate.law.columbia.edu/content/about-silencing-science-tracker. ^
  44. “Silencing Science Tracker.” Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://climate.law.columbia.edu/Silencing-Science-Tracker. ^
  45. “About the Silencing Science Tracker.” Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://climate.law.columbia.edu/content/about-silencing-science-tracker. ^
  46. “About the Silencing Science Tracker.” Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://climate.law.columbia.edu/content/about-silencing-science-tracker. ^
  47. “About the Silencing Science Tracker.” Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://climate.law.columbia.edu/content/about-silencing-science-tracker. ^
  48. “About the Silencing Science Tracker.” Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://climate.law.columbia.edu/content/about-silencing-science-tracker. ^
  49. “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund.” Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax,

    Form 990. 2017. Part VIII, Line 1. ^

  50. “PEER Adopts the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund.” whistleblower.org. Government Accountability Project. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://whistleblower.org/politicization-of-climate-science/attacks-on-climate-science-and-scientists/peer-adopts-the-climate-science-legal-defense-fund/. ^
  51. John, Caroline. “Vanessa Nadal: 5 Facts to Know about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Wife.” Earn The Necklace, October 26, 2017. https://www.earnthenecklace.com/lin-manuel-miranda-wife-vanessa-nadal-age-kids-instagram-facts/. ^
  52. “Our Team.” Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://www.csldf.org/about/team/. ^
  53. “Our Team.” Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://www.csldf.org/about/team/. ^
  54. “Our Team.” Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://www.csldf.org/about/team/. ^
  55. “Our Team.” Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://www.csldf.org/about/team/. ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: February 1, 2015

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Dec Form 990 $584,817 $320,948 $569,330 $14,757 N $584,132 $104 $0 $96,589
    2016 Dec Form 990 $378,392 $165,173 $294,945 $4,241 N $377,082 $1,205 $0 $82,232 PDF
    2015 Dec Form 990 $206,288 $151,722 $96,320 $3,835 N $206,288 $0 $0 $76,832 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990EZ $55,462 $17,543 $37,919 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF

    Climate Science Legal Defense Fund

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