D.C. Democrat investigates Ga. Tech professor who bucks climate trend

Georgia Tech climate researcher Judith Curry does not deny that humans contribute to global warming.

But the professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences has won praise from Republicans on Capitol Hill by questioning the prevailing verdict that humans are the primary cause of rising temperatures and doubting the need for drastic, economy-shifting action by policy-makers.

Now one key Democrat is investigating whether Curry’s voice is being funded by interests that profit from the energy status quo, a notion Curry flatly rejects and suggests “intimidation and harassment” as a motivation for the inquiry.

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., sent letters to the employers of Curry and six other climate researchers who have testified on Capitol Hill, asking for their funding sources and other information.

Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, cited a New York Times story about a Harvard-Smithsonian researcher who did not disclose grants from utilities such as Atlanta's Southern Co.

“They’ve all testified before Congress, and they’ve all been against the consensus about the warming of the planet,” Grijalva told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of the seven researchers he is investigating.

“Especially on Natural Resources, issues like climate change, you have to value the integrity of the science,” he said.

Curry told the AJC that all her funding comes from government sources.

In a lengthy response on her blog, Curry pointed out that every time she testifies before Congress she includes information about her funding sources in written testimony, and she has never been asked about it before.

“I think that biases in testimony related to climate change are more likely to be ideological and political than related to funding,” Curry wrote.

“So what is the point of asking for detailed financial information (including travel) from these academic researchers?” she asked. “Intimidation and harassment is certainly one reason that comes to mind.”

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, a Monroe Republican who also serves on the House Natural Resources Committee, questioned whether the inquiry was a valuable use of the committee’s time and energy.

“It is a shame that because a scientist has reached a different conclusion on climate science than the liberal elite that the integrity of her research would be called into question,” Hice said in a prepared statement.

Curry has never testified before the Natural Resources Committee, but she has appeared multiple times on Capitol Hill.

Last year, she told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: “Anthropogenic greenhouse warming (originating with human activity) is a theory whose basic mechanism is well understood, but whose magnitude is highly uncertain. Multiple lines of evidence presented in the recent (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) fifth assessment report suggest that the case for anthropogenic warming is now weaker than in 2007, when the fourth assessment report was published.”

Also on the panel that day before the Democratic-controlled committee was Andrew Dessler of Texas A&M University.

“We know the climate is warming,” Dessler testified. “We know that humans are now in the driver’s seat of the climate system. We know that, over the next century, if nothing is done to rein in emissions, temperatures will likely increase enough to profoundly change the planet. I wish this weren’t true, but it is what the science tells us.”

The story of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics researcher Wei-Hock Soon prompted Grijalva's inquiry. The New York Times found that Soon accepted $1.2 million from the fossil fuel industry in the past 10 years and often did not disclose the funding.

Soon has said that global warming can be explained by variations in the sun's energy. The Times, via documents unearthed by the environmental group Greenpeace, found that $409,000 of Soon's funding came from Southern Company Services, a subsidiary of the Atlanta-based utility giant. Southern has been one of the most aggressive and active forces in Washington opposing the Obama administration's regulations on carbon emissions.

In his letter to Georgia Tech President G.P. Peterson, Grijalva wrote: “My colleagues and I cannot perform our duties if research and testimony provided to us is influenced by undisclosed financial relationships.”

Among other requests, Grijalva asked for Georgia Tech’s policy on financial disclosure, Curry’s disclosure forms, Curry’s government testimony, any correspondence related to preparing her testimony, a detailed description of Curry’s external funding and her pay since 2007.