The Bush administration has violated a 2004 congressional deadline for presenting the latest scientific research about global warming to lawmakers and the public and must submit its report by next spring, a federal judge ruled today.
Federal officials have "unlawfully withheld action they are required to take,'' preparing a new scientific assessment by November 2004 and a research plan by July 2006, said U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong of Oakland. "Congress has imposed clear-cut, unambiguous deadlines for compliance.''
A 1990 federal law requires the government to produce a scientific report every four years on climate change and its effects on the environment, including land, water, air, plant and animal life and human health.
The Clinton administration issued the first report in October 2000, warning of severe effects on different regions. The Bush administration has not issued a report and, according to environmental groups that filed the lawsuit last November, has tried to bury the Clinton report.
"This administration has denied and suppressed the science of global warming at every turn,'' said Brendan Cummings, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Administration officials were unavailable for comment on the ruling. When the suit was filed, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the government had chosen other means of complying with the law: a series of 21 mini-reports on various aspects of climate change, issued over a two-year period.
The first of those documents, in May 2006, discussed temperature trends in the lower atmosphere but did not describe any potential effects on the environment.
Armstrong ordered the administration to publish a summary of its climate research plan by March 1 and to submit the plan to Congress 90 days later after receiving public comments. She ordered Bush officials to publish the scientific assessment of global warming and its effects by May 31.
Armstrong was appointed in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, who signed the 1990 law requiring the reports.
The ruling was the second legal defeat for the administration on global warming this year. The Supreme Court ruled in April that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted from vehicle tailpipes were pollutants subject to federal regulation -- rejecting the government's position that it lacked such authority -- and said the voluntary measures promoted by the Bush administration were an inadequate substitute for regulation.
President Bush opposes mandatory emissions limits, saying they would damage the U.S. economy. In 2001 he pulled the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol, which requires curbs on greenhouse gases.
Government lawyers sought to dismiss the lawsuit over the scientific reports, arguing that the 1990 law was intended only to provide information to Congress and that private citizens had no right to sue over the deadlines. But Armstrong said the law also entitles the public to take part in the planning process by commenting on the government's disclosures.
If the research plan is delayed indefinitely, the judge said, the public participation intended by Congress "has no real value or substance.''
The law on this couldn't be clearer.
Despite the ruling in favor of the plaintiffs (and one might ask why the Democratically-controlled Congress - specifically Senator Barbara Boxer as the Chair of the Senate's Environment and Public Works committee and Representative Ed Markey as Chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming weren't the plaintiffs), it helps the Bush administration (and Republicans) stall and bury the issue beyond the 2008 election cycle by giving them close to a year to comply.
Is there a doubt that the Bush administration will appeal, stonewall, do the minimum of what it needs to do ("my dog ate the report"), as slowly as possible, to keep from the law and the issue at bay. Come May 31, 2008, the Court will be buried in paper, every appeal wrench will be tossed at it, and when asked about it as a campaign issue, Bush and Republicans will say (everybody, say it together in unison), "That matter is in the courts now, so we can't say anything about it until it's been adjudicated."
Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong was appointed to the U.S. District Court in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush.