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Conservative Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is investigating a former University of Virginia professor's climate change research.
The Republican is demanding papers from the university as part of an inquiry of whether Michael Mann defrauded taxpayers by using manipulated data to seek money to back his research.
Cuccinelli dismisses assertions that manmade gasses cause the planet to warm. He has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency challenging its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Since his days in the Virginia Senate, he has rejected the principle that exhaust from industry and vehicles has warmed the earth's overall temperatures, contributing to decades-long droughts on some continents and the thawing of polar ice caps.
Cuccinelli also found his way into headlines in January for advising officials at state-supported colleges in Virginia not to consider sexual orientation as a basis for enforcing legal protections against discrimination.
The attorney general was out of the office on Tuesday and unable to immediately comment, said his spokesman Brian J. Gottstein.
Gottstein said the investigation is a legitimate inquiry that follows up on a controversy last year when climate change skeptics obtained nearly 1,000 e-mails stolen from a British university and claimed it proved scientists had exaggerated the threat of global warming.
An independent review of work done at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit found no deliberate scientific malpractice.
"If `Climategate' never came to light," Gottstein said, "this investigation would never be happening."
The civil investigative demand seeks information related to five grants for research projects into climate change in which Mann was involved. It also seeks copies of e-mails and other correspondence Mann sent to or received from 39 named scientists or researchers worldwide and an undetermined number of assistants, secretaries or administrative staff at Virginia.
He said it was not Cuccinelli's disdain for global warming that prompted the investigation but a need to determine whether Mann had misrepresented or manipulated any data to obtain public research grants while at the university.
Mann, now at Penn State University, noted in an e-mail to The Associated Press that his work has repeatedly been validated and key conclusions of his work have been replicated and confirmed. Among those vindicating his work are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scholarly scientific journal Nature, the National Academy of Sciences and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"It seems highly vindictive. It seems clearly to me that it's an attempt to intimidate and to silence me and to make an example of me for other scientists who might speak out on the science of climate change," Mann said in an AP telephone interview.
He also said the fear of being targeted for investigations by the state attorney general could drive top researchers and professors away from Virginia's public universities.