Did climate scientist James Hansen personally benefit from public office?

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The American Tradition Institute’s (ATI) Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit Tuesday to force the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to make public ethics records for global warming activist and chief climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies James Hansen — to ensure that he did not use his public position for personal gain.

According to ATI, over the past four years Hansen has earned an estimated $1.2 million from outside opportunities.

ATI hopes to find out if NASA approved Hansen’s external endeavors and if his gain was a result of his “taxpayer-funded employment,” as he allegedly began making this money when he increased his amount of global warming advocacy – specifically in the years following a 2006 “60 Minutes” interview in which the climate scientist accused the Bush administration of “censoring” his warming views.

This is the second time this year the group has sought information of this kind from NASA. In January ATI attempted to obtain records dealing with NASA and Hansen’s compliance with financial disclosure and ethics laws. The agency rejected their request then, arguing that the disclosure was a “clearly unwarranted violation of Hansen’s privacy rights.”

NASA further said that ATI had failed to make “the requisite showing that the documents requested would contribute to the public’s understanding of the activities of the Government, or how it would shed light on NASA’s performance of its statutory duties.”

ATI has intensified their attempt to force disclosure with today’s lawsuit in federal district court in the District of Columbia – arguing that a senior government employee’s money-making advocacy should be public. (Gore promoting fewer children to curb pollution)

“Dr. Hansen engages in high-profile public advocacy with regard to global warming and energy policy, directly trading on his platform as a NASA astronomer to gain interest and attention,” the group asserted in a press release. “This outside employment and other activities related to his work have included: consulting; highly compensated speeches; policy advocacy; a commercial book; advising Al Gore on his movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth;’ and most recently, advising litigants on suing states and the federal government.”

Christopher Horner, ATI’s director of litigation, explained that public employees may not personally gain from their office.

“Under federal statutes and NASA rules, employees may not privately benefit from their public office,” he said in a statement. “Outside income must be disclosed, certain activities avoided, and permission must be applied for before engaging in permissible outside employment or activities. ATI’s request seeks official documents which, if they exist, would inform the public about NASA’s and Dr. Hansen’s adherence to these ethics rules. Considering the records already obtained and the public record, compliance by NASA and Dr. Hansen is in doubt.”

“The President and the Attorney General have made clear their commitment to transparency and a high standard of ethical behavior by government employees,” said David Schnare, Director of the ATI Environmental Law Center. “NASA needs to clear the air by releasing the documents about Dr. Hansen and about whether he had permission to wear his government hat when engaging in a lucrative effort to sway government policy.”

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies could not immediately be reached for comment.

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