Wednesday, September 28, 2011

OIG Critical Of Procedures Used In EPA's GHG Endangerment Finding

Sep 28: U.S. EPA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued a 99-page report entitled, Procedural Review of EPA's Greenhouse Gases Endangerment Finding Data Quality Processes (No. 11-P-0702, September 26, 2011). Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), requested that OIG determine whether EPA followed key Federal and Agency regulations and policies in developing and reviewing the technical data used to make and support its greenhouse gases (GHG) endangerment finding.
    On December 15, 2009, EPA published its Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases Under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. As the primary scientific basis for EPA's finding, the Agency relied upon assessments conducted by other organizations. EPA summarized the results of these and other scientific assessments in a technical support document (TSD).
    In its investigation, OIG found that EPA met statutory requirements for rulemaking and generally followed requirements and guidance related to ensuring the quality of the supporting technical information. Whether EPA's review of its endangerment finding TSD met Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirements for peer review depends on whether the TSD is considered a "highly influential scientific assessment." OIG indicates, "In our opinion, the TSD was a highly influential scientific assessment because EPA weighed the strength of the available science by its choices of information, data, studies, and conclusions included in and excluded from the TSD." OIG reports that EPA officials did not consider the TSD a highly influential scientific assessment. EPA noted that the TSD consisted only of science that was previously peer reviewed, and that these reviews were deemed adequate under the Agency's policy. EPA had the TSD reviewed by a panel of 12 Federal climate change scientists. OIG indicates, "This review did not meet all OMB requirements for peer review of a highly influential scientific assessment primarily because the review results and EPA's response were not publicly reported, and because 1 of the 12 reviewers was an EPA employee."

    OIG reports that EPA's guidance for assessing data generated by other organizations does not include procedures for conducting such assessments or require EPA to document its assessment. EPA provided statements in its final findings notice and supporting TSD that generally addressed the Agency's assessment factors for evaluating scientific and technical information, and explained its rationale for accepting other organizations' data. However, no supporting documentation was available to show what analyses the Agency conducted prior to disseminating the information. OIG indicates, "Our evaluation examined the data quality procedures EPA used in developing the endangerment finding. We did not assess whether the scientific information and data supported the endangerment finding."

    OIG concludes, "We recommend that EPA (1) revise its Peer Review Handbook to accurately reflect OMB requirements for peer review of highly influential scientific assessments, (2) instruct program offices to state in proposed and final rules whether the action is supported by influential scientific information or a highly influential scientific assessment, and (3) revise its assessment factors guidance to establish minimum review and documentation requirements for assessing and accepting data from other organizations." OIG indicates that EPA stated that its response to the final report will address the recommendations.

    In addition to the report, EPA's Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins, Jr. issued a press statement dated September 28, on the report. In the statement, Elkins said, ""The OIG evaluated EPA's compliance with established policy and procedures in the development of the endangerment finding, including processes for ensuring information quality. We concluded that the technical support document that accompanied EPA's endangerment finding is a highly influential scientific assessment and thus required a more rigorous EPA peer review than occurred. EPA did not certify whether it complied with OMB's or its own peer review policies in either the proposed or final endangerment findings as required. While it may be debatable what impact, if any, this had on EPA's finding, it is clear that EPA did not follow all required steps for a highly influential scientific assessment. We also noted that documentation of events and analyses could be improved.

    "We made no determination regarding the impact that EPA's information quality control systems may have had on the scientific information used to support the finding. We did not test the validity of the scientific or technical information used to support the endangerment finding, nor did we evaluate the merit of EPA's conclusions or analyses. We make recommendations that we think will strengthen EPA's control over data quality processes. EPA disagreed with our conclusions and did not agree to take any corrective actions in response to this report. All the report's recommendations are unresolved."

    Senator Inhofe, who requested the report responded immediately with a release indicating, "I appreciate the Inspector General conducting a thorough investigation into the Obama-EPA's handling of the endangerment finding for greenhouse gases. This report confirms that the endangerment finding, the very foundation of President Obama's job-destroying regulatory agenda, was rushed, biased, and flawed. It calls the scientific integrity of EPA's decision-making process into question and undermines the credibility of the endangerment finding.

    "The Inspector General's investigation uncovered that EPA failed to engage in the required record-keeping process leading up to the endangerment finding decision, and it also did not follow its own peer review procedures to ensure that the science behind the decision was sound. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson readily admitted in 2009 that EPA had outsourced its scientific review to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This is an institution whose credibility has already been called into question. Even so, EPA still refused to conduct its own independent review of the science.  As the EPA Inspector General found, whatever one thinks of the UN science, the EPA is still required -- by its own procedures -- to conduct an independent review.

    "The endangerment finding is no small matter: global warming regulations imposed by the Obama-EPA under the Clean Air Act will cost American consumers $300 to $400 billion a year, significantly raise energy prices, and destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs. This is not to mention the 'absurd result' that EPA will need to hire 230,000 additional employees and spend an additional $21 billion to implement its greenhouse gas regime. And all of this economic pain is for nothing: as EPA Administrator Jackson also admitted before the EPW committee, these regulations will have no affect on the climate.  

    "One asks, what happened to Administrator Jackson's vow in 2009 that the Agency would commit to high standards of transparency because ' The success of our environmental efforts depends on earning and maintaining the trust of the public we serve ' or Obama Advisor John Holdren's promise that the Administration would make decisions based on the best possible science because, as the President said, ' The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions '?  Given what has come to light in this report, it appears that the Obama EPA cannot be trusted on the most consequential decision the agency has ever made.  

    "I am calling for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the committee of jurisdiction over the EPA, to hold immediate hearings to address EPA's failure to provide the required documentation and have the science impartially reviewed.  EPA needs to explain to the American people why it blatantly circumvented its own procedures to make what appears to be a predetermined endangerment finding."

    Access the complete report (click here). Access IG's statement (click here). Access a release from Sen. Inhofe (click here). [#Climate, #Air]

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