By 4:00 a.m. on 29 November 2006, more than 50 people were waiting in line outside the U.S. Supreme Court building to hear opening arguments in the first global warming case before the Court. At issue is "standing," or whether the plaintiffs have suffered injury due to the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). All plaintiffs in federal court cases have to prove standing in order to move forward with a lawsuit. Although the Court did not decide the issue by the end of the day, it was clear that the debate over global warming and federal administrative law will weigh heavily in the Court's decision. A final ruling is expected in summer 2006.
The plaintiffs' position, argued by Massachusetts assistant attorney general Jim Milkey, includes support from eleven other states and environmental organizations from across the country. The plaintiffs argue that EPA violated the Clean Air Act in 2003 when the agency decided not to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new automobiles. They are asking the Court to order EPA to reconsider the decision based on evidence that greenhouse gases can be considered pollutants under the Clean Air Act. "We are not asking the Court to pass judgment on the science of climate change or to order EPA to set emission standards. We simply want EPA to visit the rulemaking petition based upon permissible considerations," asserted Milkey. Plaintiffs' arguments focused on the violation of administrative law and not on the debate over the cause and effect of global warming. However, Justice Scalia raised a concern over whether or not Milkey could prove that detrimental harm can come from greenhouse gases emitted due to automobiles and human population in general. "I gather that there's something of a consensus on warming, but not a consensus on how much of that is attributable to human activity," stated Scalia. If the Justices are not convinced that the plaintiffs have suffered harm due to the EPA's decision, the case will be dropped.
The defense is led by deputy U.S. solicitor general Gregory Garre. Joining the defense are the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, National Automobile Dealers Association, Engine Manufacturers Association, Truck Manufacturers Association, CO2 Litigation Group, Utility Air Regulatory Group, and ten states. The defense holds that the EPA acted prudently when it decided the agency did not have jurisdiction over greenhouse gases, and further argues that given political debate surrounding global warming, it is not wise for the EPA to push the issue further. "...now is not the time to exercise such authority, in light of the substantial scientific uncertainty surrounding global climate change and the ongoing studies designed to address those uncertainties," argued Garre.
In response to the defense's arguments, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) issued a press release on 29 November 2006. The statement summarized the scientific consensus about global climate change and the role of greenhouse gas emissions in increasing the effects of climate change. In short, the ESA statement supports the Plaintiffs' stance that global climate change can increase threats to human health. The statement concludes, "The recognition of these facts by the Court in Massachusetts et al. vs. U.S. EPA et al. will provide significant support to the certainty of climate change that the administration cannot ignore," said ESA president Alan Covich.
Separately, on 29 November 2006, a letter sent on behalf of unions representing more than 10,000 EPA employees urged the Bush Administration to take a more proactive approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and controlling the effects of climate change. The letter also addresses the issue of "censorship" in EPA research. The letter states, "Some U.S. EPA engineers and scientists have indicated to us that they have been explicitly directed not to discuss coal integrated combined cycle technology in evaluation of environmental impact statement alternatives under the National Environmental Policy Act."
Members of Congress have quite a bit of work left to accomplish before they adjourn. To date, only two appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2007 have been passed. President Bush signed The Department of Defense spending bill (H.R. 5631) into law on 29 September and the Department of Homeland Security measure (H.R. 5441) on 4 October.
Two continuing resolutions (CR) have been passed to fund the federal agencies not included in Homeland and Defense appropriation bills. The first CR was passed prior to Congress' recess for the mid-term elections, and funded agencies through 17 November. The current CR will expire on 8 December.
Talk in Washington, DC suggests that the third CR will be approved by the end of the week and will extend into February 2007, when Democrats take control of the new 110th Congress. Current speculation suggests that appropriators are hoping to fund the government through mid-February at the lowest funding level of either the House-passed bill or the current fiscal year funding level.
Because appropriations bills cannot be carried forward into the new Congress, earmarks included in the remaining appropriations bills will become obsolete in January. Federal agencies and programs funded under the continuing resolution will continue to operate, however civilian pay raises have been delayed and many programs remain in limbo until funding is approved in the 110th Congress.
On the Senate agenda for December is quick confirmation of President Bush's nominee for Secretary of Defense. President Bush nominated Robert Gates on 8 November 8, following Rumsfeld's resignation
After three years of declining international student enrollment, the United States experienced a slight increase in new international enrollment from 2005-2006. According to a multi-year research report conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools, the United States has experienced a 12 percent increase in the number of applications from and offers of admission to international graduate school candidates in 2006.
International student enrollment began declining following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks by foreign nationals (several of the terrorists were in the US on student visas), which forced Congress to make changes in visa and immigration policies that subsequently affected graduate student visa applications adversely. Ellen Cohen, an associate director of the International Students and Scholars Office at Columbia University, stated that for a number of years after 2001, "there were terrible visa problems."
A separate report released by the Institute of International Education in conjunction with the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs also indicates that international student enrollment increased in 2006.
Effective 23 January 2007, all citizens of the United States and nonimmigrant aliens from Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda who fly into and depart out of United States airports will be required to present a legal passport. In the past, a valid birth certificate was acceptable. That is no longer the case. Future rulemaking intends to address requirements for citizens and nonimmigrant aliens departing from and arriving in the US via land and sea.
The changes will not affect the US territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Swains Island and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
United States citizens can visit the State Department's web site http://travel.state.gov, or call the U.S. National Passport Information Center: (877) 4USA-PPT. Citizens should allow 6 weeks for passport application processing. If you need to travel urgently and require a passport sooner, please visit http://travel.state.gov for additional information on expedited processing. Peak domestic passport processing is between January and July. For faster service, the State Department recommends applying between August and December. U.S. citizens living outside the U.S. should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Foreign nationals should contact their respective governments to obtain passports.
Further information on the final rule can be found at: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2006/06-9402.htm.
More information can be found on the State Department's website for travel: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2225.html.
The December 2006 Washington Watch column in BioScience considers the implications of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the ability of the federal government to regulate wetlands. This and previous Washington Watch articles may be read for free online at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/.
The following is a brief excerpt from the December article.
In early 2006, more than 50 briefs were submitted to the Supreme Court in connection with two cases challenging the federal government's authority to regulate streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act (CWA). At issue in Rapanos v. United States and Carabell v. Army Corps of Engineers was whether the CWA prohibition on unpermitted discharges into navigable waters extended to nonnavigable wetlands. In both cases, the petitioners had sought to deposit fill material in wetlands in preparation for development projects.
On 19 June 2006, the Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated ruling (www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/05pdf/04-1034.pdf). Justice Scalia announced the Court's decision to remand the cases to lower courts and wrote an opinion in which Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito joined; Justice Kennedy filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer dissented. The 4-1-4 plurality decision might better be described as an "indecision," however: The Court failed to achieve a majority position on the broader question of whether the United States has the authority to regulate streams and wetlands under the CWA.
The ruling initially appeared to be a defeat for supporters of the CWA.
Continue reading at /washington-watch/washington_watch_2006_12.html.
The American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that applications for the 2007 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award are now available. The EPPLA was established by AIBS in 2003 as a way to recognize and further the science policy interests of graduate students in the biological sciences and science education.
More information about prior EPPLA recipients is available online at /public-policy/policy_training.html.
Application information is below and available online at /announcements/061106_graduate_student_policy_training.html.
AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award
Applications Due by 5 p.m. Friday, 16 February 2007
As part of its focus on engaging scientists in the public policy process, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is pleased to offer the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award (EPPLA). The EPPLA is an opportunity for graduate students in the biological sciences to receive first-hand experience in the policy arena. AIBS pays travel costs and expenses for 1-2 EPPLA recipients to participate in a Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington, D.C. on April 18-19, 2007 (dates subject to change). This is an annual event that brings scientists and science educators to Washington, D.C. to raise visibility and support for the biological sciences. The EPPLA recipient(s) will attend briefings by key officials from the White House and Congress and a reception honoring members of Congress for their work on behalf of biology. Participants will also meet with members of Congress and their staff to explain the importance of federal support for scientific research.
AIBS is now accepting applications for the 2007 Emerging Public Policy Leader Award from graduate students (master's or doctoral) in the biological sciences with a demonstrated interest in and commitment to biological science and/or science education policy. Submit applications electronically to email@example.com NO LATER than 5 p.m. on Friday, 16 February 2006.
Cover letter. Applicants should describe their interest in science policy issues and how participation in this CVD event would further their career goals. Applicants should also confirm their availability to attend the April 18-19 event.
Statement on the importance of biological research (max. 500 words). The objective of CVD is to communicate to decision makers the long-term importance of the biological sciences to the nation. How would you convince your congressional delegation of the importance of biological research? Prepare a statement that emphasizes the benefits of biological research, drawing on your own experience and/or research area, and referencing local issues that may be of interest to your congressional delegation as appropriate.
Resume (1 page). Your resume should emphasize leadership and communication experience - this may include graduate, undergraduate, or non-academic activities. Please include the following items: education (including relevant law or policy courses), work experience, honors and awards, and memberships. Please do not list conference presentations, abstracts or scientific manuscripts.
Letter of reference. Ask an individual who can attest to your leadership, interpersonal and communication skills to send a letter on your behalf to firstname.lastname@example.org by the stated deadline. This individual should also be familiar with your interest in or experience with science or education policy issues.