Federal officials are about to test reaction to a hot-button question in the global warming debate: whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new vehicles.
Within a few weeks, the agency expects to publish a Federal Register notice asking for comments on a petition filed last October by the International Center for Technology Assessment, a green-leaning think tank in Washington. The petition argues that EPA can and should regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act because it's a pollutant that's harmful to public health and welfare. Comments already submitted by industry groups, however, argue that the act doesn't apply to CO2. Moreover, extra CO2 “is not having harmful effects, and it can be and has been shown to be beneficial,” argues Paul Kamenar of the conservative Washington Legal Foundation.
EPA insists that it has no immediate plans to actually regulate CO2. And officials note that the agency has been asked to air the idea at the request of two warming skeptics in Congress: Representatives David McIntosh (R-IN) and Ken Calvert (R-CA). “The agency isn't taking any position on the merits of the petition,” says David Doniger of EPA. “It's simply to get everybody's two cents.”
After years of dithering, the Indian government has joined global efforts to develop a vaccine against AIDS. Last week Indian and U.S. officials pledged to accelerate cooperative research aimed at developing a vaccine against the HIV subtype most common in the Indian region. India has traditionally been wary of foreign scientists seeking to conduct vaccine trials on its territory for fear that the trials would not benefit its population (Science, 20 November 1998, p. 1394), although about 3.5 million people are thought to be HIV positive.
The new accords were signed last week in Washington, D.C., by C. P. Thakur, the Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare, and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and cover maternal and child health as well as AIDS. A working group of Indo-U.S. scientists will propose specific projects to be carried out under the auspices of the Indian Council of Medical Research in New Delhi and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Reviving the Dead Zone
A White House plan to shrink the Gulf of Mexico's “dead zone” calls for major cuts in river-borne nutrients and more funds to create pollution-trapping wetlands and streamside buffers. But observers say the draft road map, released last week by the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, still lacks some key details—such as a price tag.
The 18,000-square-kilometer dead zone appears each spring at the mouth of the Mississippi. Floods wash excess nitrogen into the gulf, triggering algae blooms and an ecological chain reaction that reduces oxygen levels and suffocates sea life (Science, 10 July 1998, p. 190). To reduce the nutrients, the panel calls for restoring 2 million hectares of wetlands and cutting fertilizer runoff by 20% by 2010 in the Mississippi Basin, which holds more than half of the nation's farmland.
Will Congress back the plan? “That depends on the price—and assurances that it won't harm the region's $100 billion farm economy,” says a House aide. A final version is due later this year.
Any Day Now
In May, the 16 international partners producing a publicly owned sequence of the human genome set a 15 June deadline for submitting 90% of the gene-containing regions to GenBank, a public database. The milestone would signal the end of a frantic race to produce a rough draft of the 3.3-billion-base genome ahead of private competitor Celera Genomics of Rockville, Maryland.
But as of 18 June, the team was short of its goal—stuck at about 84%. A weekly tabulation by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) revealed one reason why: Although GenBank has almost 3.9 billion bases of human sequence in-house, more than a billion are duplicates. The duplication is a natural outcome of the sequencing process, which starts with small chunks of overlapping DNA that are pieced together into a long, continuous string. As a result, the “redundancy goes up as [the project] approaches completion,” explains NCBI's Greg Schuler. His Genome Watch, which charts sequencing progress, has edged up at just 1% per week lately, but the sequencers still hope for a June finish. Tune in to www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/genome/seq/HsHome.shtml to see if they make it.