EPA Cut Corners On Climate Finding: Inspector General
September 29, 2011

EPA Cut Corners On Climate Finding: Inspector General

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took shortcuts in laying the groundwork to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases, the agency's Inspector General said on Wednesday in a report that could boost efforts to block new climate change rules.

The report concluded that the environmental agency should have followed a more comprehensive review process in a technical paper it compiled to support its determination that greenhouse gases pose dangers to human health and welfare. 

Instead, the agency relied upon previous studies from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council and others to justify issuing controversial and costly regulations to control greenhouse gases for the first time.

"While it may be debatable what impact, if any, this had on EPA's finding, it is clear that EPA did not follow all the required steps," said Inspector General Arthur Elkins in a statement on Wednesday.

The EPA had to conclude the emissions were harmful before it could regulate them.  Since then, the EPA has established rules to reduce the emissions from sources including cars, trucks, power plants and oil refineries.

The Obama administration disagreed with the Inspector General´s findings, saying the greenhouse gas document generated by the EPA did not require additional scrutiny because the evidence it was based upon had already been thoroughly reviewed.

Indeed, the EPA did have the document vetted by 12 experts, one of which worked for EPA.

"The report importantly does not question or even address the science used or the conclusions reached," the EPA said in a statement, adding that its work had followed “all appropriate guidance”.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has consistently maintained that her conclusions were based on the underlying science, not the agency's summary of it.

The EPA´s decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions was announced in December 2009, a week before President Obama took part in international negotiations in Denmark on a new treaty to mitigate global warming.

At the time, progress in Congress to enact cap and trade legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions had stalled.

By highlighting what it referred to as "procedural deviations," the EPA Inspector General´s report adds weight to arguments made by Republicans and industry lawyers battling the Obama administration over its decision to use the 1970 Clean Air Act to combat global warming.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the act could be used to regulate greenhouse gases.  However, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed legislation last week that would change that. The bill has since stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and President Obama has vowed to veto it.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who requested the Inspector General´s investigation, said Wednesday that the report confirms "the very foundation of President Obama's job-destroying agenda was rushed, biased and flawed."

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), who has been critical of the EPA regulations, said the environmental agency had bypassed scientific protocol for the sake of "political expediency."

Environmentalists disagreed, saying the Inspector General was quibbling at the public's expense.  

The cost of the investigation was about $300,000.

"The process matters, but the science matters more," said Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, during an interview with The Associated Press.

"Nothing in this report questions the agency's ability to move forward with global warming emissions rules."

The worst-case scenario for the EPA is that a federal judge requires the agency rework the document, which would temporarily put the global warming regulations in limbo.

The Inspector General said in the report that while the EPA had "generally" followed data quality requirements, the document required additional independent scrutiny because the agency itself had weighed the strength of that science. 

The inspector general noted that the EPA did not publicly report the results of the review, and that one of the twelve experts who reviewed the document worked at the agency.  Officials with the EPA said the information was included, but not in the format the inspector general wanted.
The EPA Inspector General's full report can be viewed at http://www.epa.gov/oig/.