Policy: Environment & Energy

Chris Horner, FOIA watchdog, demands transparency from government's global warming advocates

Watchdog,Competitive Enterprise Institute,Gina McCarthy,Accountability,Energy and Environment,FOIA

Chris Horner is deeply serious about his role as a climate-truth watchdog, but his sense of humor about his detractors is deliciously dark.

Take the story that broke just after New Year's of a Russian ship stranded in Antarctic ice, an incident seized by proponents as a certain sign that global warming was for real as polar sea ice continues to morph and melt.

The Chinese icebreaker sent in to rescue the trapped ship and its 73 passengers ended up getting caught in the ice, too, prompting one of the boat's scientific researchers to quip that his global warming-proving team was "stuck in our own experiment."

"They were trapped in 18 feet of irony, crushing irony," Horner cracked of the ice capade in a January appearance on Washington-area WMAL-AM radio — a quip sure to make hardcore environmentalists burn.

Not that they weren't already smoking. Since establishing himself in Washington as a Freedom of Information Act-wielding attorney and now a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Horner has been busy busting what he sees as absurd global warming claims and the federal government's deepening lack of transparency.

His most recent coup: Snaring a now-former EPA chief, via FOIA, for using a false online identity to conduct official business.

The St. Louis-born attorney, 49, and author of such titles as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism, and Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed, has sparked backlash at home and around the world -- enough that his opponents have come after him in mischief he describes as too close for comfort.

Although Horner declined to discuss his home life or his family — he is married and a father — he does allow that he has been brazenly stalked, paparazzi-style — he fingers Greenpeace — by sleuths combing through his home garbage.

His response? Good old-fashioned dog poo placed strategically throughout his rubbish to snare privacy-invading foragers who remain determined to discredit him, excrement be damned.

They, he says of his antagonists, depend on a moral rationale that is "always changing," and are protecting not the earth but the efforts of Big Business whose expansion model is predicated on a "confused message — the premise that 'we're all doomed if we don't stop polluting.' Even so, let's get out in front of it and make some money."

"I'm not asking for anything. I'm not demanding sacrifices, money, power or authority. They are," Horner says of global warming true-believers and his questioning of what he argues is a weak premise. "I have no burden here. They can't meet it, so they resort to name-calling, intimidation and to making things up."

He points to a giant global movement's lack of traction: "If you soberly pause and reflect, you'll realize that nothing ever proposed would impact the climate. Not the Kyoto Treaty, the carbon tax ... This entire movement is premised not on looking out the window, not on observation. It's premised on computer models, on premised projections of the future, which you cannot deny. You can't deny the future."

Horner's entrée into the world of environmental exploitation came firsthand in 1997 when he took a job at Enron, the infamous Houston-based energy company whose chairman, Kenneth Lay, died in 2006 at 64 while awaiting sentencing on multiple convictions of fraud and conspiracy following one of the most widely publicized corporate bankruptcies ever.

Horner had only been with Enron as its Washington, D.C.-based director of federal government relations for a couple of days when he opened his mouth, perhaps too candidly, during an executive meeting attended by Lay on a strategy for getting a global warming treaty.

Eager to contribute, Horner says he innocently piped up with what he didn't realize was a bombshell: "It involved me saying, 'When did we go from asking if this is real and a problem to how to make a buck off of it?' "

Lay was not impressed. Horner was gone within a few weeks.

At CEI, Horner found a home where he could hold down the other side of the climate debate and ask questions about global companies "donning the green cloak in the name of the world's second-oldest profession, rent-seeking."

Armed with the FOIA, he began to learn how government conducts its business — off the grid — and how left-wing activists united with officials under the radar to advance shared agendas.

His latest book -- The Liberal War on Transparency: Confession of a Freedom of Information "Criminal" -- calls out the Obama administration for hiding many arguably illegal activities from taxpayers who fund the work of their government.

"They use private email accounts and computers, avoid creating records, stonewall information requests and otherwise delay or deny access to information every taxpayer has a right to know," writes Horner.

Most recently, Horner has been hard at work on litigation directed at the Environmental Protection Agency to produce documentation about official use of private email accounts, including addresses of environmental activist groups, and text messaging to work out of public purview.

In an FOIA lawsuit filed last May against then-EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy, Horner claimed the agency "destroyed 5,392 text messages over three years" -- all public records and an act he described as serial document destruction, "not an accidental pattern of behavior."

Horner believes McCarthy — who has since become EPA administrator — is not alone among agency officials engaged in such conduct.

The suit followed the resignation of the EPA's previous administrator, Lisa Jackson, whom Horner discovered was using a secondary email alias account under the name of "Richard Windsor" on an address different from her own email account and one that he argued could be used to bypass open-records requests.

"EPA's response to the court was that we were too intrusive," Horner said, his voice chasing the irony. "It was an intrusive attempt to force them to comply with the federal record-keeping laws that no one can make them comply with. This was EPA's response to the court."

As he continues mining public records, Horner hopes to expose what he sees as a massive violation of the law. He also wants Congress to amend FOIA to include credible punishments for those who violate it.

"These are public records. And we see people engaging in very deliberate, sometimes sneaky, typically unlawful, even criminal activity to make sure taxpayers don't know what the government is up to," Horner says. "There are very few consequences for these people and they have so many places they can fall back and land. The green movement is extraordinarily well-funded."

But exposing nefarious government isn’t Horner’s ultimate goal. He says his “calling” is to teach people how to use public records to fight a growing us-versus-them government culture.

"I just hope that whatever they see or hear is somehow an impetus to them to not take it anymore. To fight back and to use the liberal war on transparency to hold your government accountable," he said.

"To start at the local school board, the city council, the county, state and local governments. Send a FOIA if you're concerned. Start asking questions. If you see a whistle to be blown — blow it."

He added: "It's not too late."

Andrea Billups is a reporter, author and media/brand consultant based in Michigan.
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