A federal court today issued a harsh rebuke of the Bush administration for its failure to issue long-delayed reports assessing the impacts and consequences of global warming in the United States.
The judge in the case set a spring deadline for administration officials to comply.
Plaintiffs in the case say the Bush administration has been suppressing two reports intended to serve as a unifying guide for Congress and federal agencies on global warming threats and scientific research priorities.
"The reports are supposed to be the premiere summary on the science of global warming in this country and used by all federal agencies," said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, a San Francisco-based conservation group and the main plaintiff in the case. "It's a very critical component of government decision making. The Bush administration essentially deep-sixed these reports."
Defendants in the case include Dr. William Brennan, acting director of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and John Marburger III, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Their offices are partially responsible for issuing two separate climate change assessment reports periodically required by the Global Change Research Act. The law was passed by Congress and signed by President George H.W. Bush in November 1990.
U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong of U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., said the current Bush administration had argued that the Global Change Research Act granted wide discretion in the timing of the production and release of the reports.
"The defendants are wrong," the judge wrote in her 38-page ruling. "Congress has conferred no discretion upon the defendants as to when they will issue [the reports]."
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy spokesperson Kristin Scuderi said that officials were still reviewing the court order and could not comment on specifics.
The administration's Climate Change Science Program has said it plans to issue 21 climate reports instead of a single comprehensive guide, as has been done in the past.
"The administration is complying with the law through the production of 21 Synthesis and Assessment documents and beginning to prepare a new research plan," Scuderi told ABC News in an e-mail.
That plan, however, was called into question by the Government Accountability Office in April 2005.
"Because the 21 individual reports are planned to address scientific uncertainties associated with climate change and other technical subjects and are to be issued over a period of three or more years, it may be difficult for the Congress and others to use this information effectively as the basis for making decisions on climate policy," according to the GAO.
The first of the two reports in dispute is called the National Global Change Research Plan. It is intended to set the goals and priorities for federal research dollars, "which most effectively advance scientific understanding of global change and provide usable information on which to base policy decisions related to global climate change." The last research plan was issued in July 2003 and the latest version is more than a year overdue, according to court documents.
A separate scientific assessment report -- required to analyze the effects of climate change in the United States -- is also more than two and a half years late.
Today's ruling ordered the defendants to publish a draft of the research plan by March 1, 2008. The judge also ordered the scientific assessment to be produced no later than May 31, 2008.
Other plaintiffs in the case include environmental advocacy groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., filed briefs in support of the plaintiffs.
Siegel said today's ruling could be appealed.