A bitter court battle between climate science deniers known for pursuing scientists with legal demands for their emails has ended with a former Trump EPA official releasing $630,000 to his former colleagues.
A dispute over the assets, legal status and ultimate control of the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic (FMELC) began in late 2017, sparking two lawsuits against the clinic’s co-founder, David Schnare.
Schnare and former FMELC colleague Christopher Horner have worked together, sometimes through another group, the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (EELI), to file multiple requests for the emails of scientists and state and federal officials working on climate change.
Both Schnare and Horner, who is a senior fellow at the fossil fuel-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, were part of Trump’s EPA “landing team.” Schnare went on to join a “beachhead” EPA team, but quit during former administrator Scott Pruitt’s tenure.
But Schnare and Horner’s relationship turned very sour. Schnare had admitted to making mistakes when incorporating the group after new board member Matthew Hardin, an associate of Horner’s, had asked to see FMELC’s banking information.
In two suits that followed, Schnare was accused of financial misconduct, of trying to conceal the group’s financial history, and then of demanding payments in return for staying quiet.
Schnare denied all of the allegations, both publicly and in responses put before the courts.
But now DeSmog can reveal that all cases have been closed, after it was agreed Schnare would release $630,000 to Horner and Hardin’s new venture called Government Accountability and Oversight — a group that pursues the same targets, with a further focus on climate change campaigners and lawyers.
DeSmog contributor John Mashey first obtained the court documents showing the settlement.
In an email, Schnare told DeSmog the dispute was now closed, but claimed the settlement had “memorialized” his denials, which he claimed had not been disputed.
He added the settlement, finalized in August but being reported here for the first time, came after he threatened to challenge in court the allegations against him.
“They (the allegations) were without foundation. Horner et al settled because we were about to go before a judge and document that none of them were true. Basically, we let him off the hook.”
“This case is an example of what happens to a law partnership when the partners end up unhappy with each other. No one at FME Law wanted to work with Horner any longer. So, we let him go and gave him some of the capital so he could start over on his own,” Schnare told DeSmog.
“FME Law is finishing up its current caseload and then will close, the remainder of us either retiring or going on to new opportunities.”
Hardin disputes Schnare’s version of events. Hardin is currently the elected Republican district attorney for Greene County, Virginia, a role known in Virginia as the Commonwealth Attorney.
Responding to Schnare’s statement, Hardin told DeSmog in an email the two lawsuits brought by the FMELC board “accurately detail what happened.”
He wrote: “Mr. Schnare's settlement was to get out from under those suits. His comments to you seem to bear no relation to either the suits or the settlement.”
Hardin also revealed that on January 27, 2018, he had written to Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring and an investigator at Virginia’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, inviting them to investigate “governing board irregularities, and possible extortion” at FMELC. This came, according to Hardin’s letter, after Schnare had himself threatened to complain to the Virginia Attorney General, who is a Democrat.
In documents provided to DeSmog, Hardin also revealed he had requested the IRS investigate FMELC and showed copies of the IRS referral and the letter to authorities in Virginia.
Hardin said he was not aware if any of the authorities had taken any further action, “but I didn’t expect to hear anything,” he added.
Horner did not respond to questions. Horner has previously avoided questions from DeSmog about his coal funding.
In one of the civil cases, now closed, Hardin, as chairman of FMELC’s board, had sued Schnare for $1 million, alleging he had badly botched the process of incorporating FMELC as a 501(c)(3) when it was first formed in 2011.
Schnare, it was alleged, had refused to let anyone view FMELC’s financial history, and had asked for a payout from the group with a promise to “keep things quiet.”
“I admit I don't know what exactly is wrong or how best to fix the matter,” Schnare wrote in the December 2017 email.
When several coal companies filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and 2016, it was revealed that FMELC, EELI, and Horner had all received funding from those struggling fossil fuel companies, including Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal, and Peabody Energy.
Scientists targeted by Horner and Schnare’s efforts include Penn State University’s Professor Michael Mann, Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, Texas Tech University’s Professor Katherine Hayhoe and Texas A&M University’s Professor Andrew Dessler.
Lauren Kurtz, executive director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, a group supporting scientists that have been targeted, told DeSmog: “The recent court cases against Schnare and FMELC show that they have sought to avoid even basic levels of accountability, all the while making careers out of subjecting scientists to bogus fishing expeditions in the name of 'transparency.'”
Main image: Christ Horner, left, and David Schnare, right.