By on September 30, 2011

In a report released earlier this week [PDF], the EPA Inspector General criticized the Technical Support Document for the portion of greenhouse gas regulation dealing with “Endangerment,” or the possible effects of greenhouse gasses. Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. summed up his office’s findings [PDF], writing

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.

Oy vey. Greenhouse gas science controversy. So, what’s the problem really about?

The question basically comes down to the way the EPA assesses outside data, and whether data assessments were worthy of the Technical Support Document (TSD)’s importance. Or, to put it into DC style “summary.”

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. EPA officials told us they 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. 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.

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.

But, there’s one more thing that the Inspector General wants to make perfectly clear:

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.

Accordingly the major Republican attack on the back of this report hasn’t been on the basis of GHG regulation science, but at procedural issues, most especially concerning transparency. With more than a dash of the requisite economic populism. In a statement today, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa argued

Improved fuel efficiency is a worthy goal. Unfortunately, the path pursued by the Obama Administration has the potential to increase vehicle costs for consumers, reduce passenger safety and ultimately impact American jobs. We cannot afford job-killing regulations forced through the process without regard to these consequences at a time of economic vulnerability. Further, there are real questions about the transparency of new standards negotiated in secrecy without adequate public input or concern for jobs and consumer choices.

With the news that they have delayed the release of these standards until November, it would seem the Administration is having difficulty fitting a pre-determined conclusion driven by outside special interests and the California Air Resources Board into the statutory structure created by Congress.

The general conclusion of that last sentence may seem like nothing more than a twist of the partisan knife, but there’s truth there. Earlier in the year the EPA had to coax CARB into waiting for “studies examining the technological and financial ramifications” before announcing new CAFE standards, indicating that the recent delay of the new rule until mid-November could be related to those studies. And this EPA Inspector General report just adds fuel to that fire. On the other hand, the DetN reports that the Obama Administration has already addressed Issa’s transparency concerns, noting

White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler told Issa the government will conduct a traditional rule-writing process.

“The agencies have made clear that they intend to conduct a public rulemaking with additional opportunity for public comment,” she wrote in the Sept. 8 letter obtained by The Detroit News that has not been made public.

But Issa’s not just going after the EPA. Bloomberg reports he’s taking on NHTSA (the other agency tasked with writing CAFE) as well. Issa fired off a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in which he thundered

“I am concerned about the negative impact these standards could have on the safety of automobiles, the possibility that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acted outside the scope of congressionally delegated authority and the lack of transparency in the process leading up to the agreement”

Transparency? Scope of powers? Not my department. Safety? Well, there again Issa has done his homework. As an EPA supplemental Notice Of Intent notes

for the 2017-2025 NPRM, NHTSA and EPA will conduct an analysis of the effects of the proposed standards on vehicle safety, including societal effects. CARB is undertaking and coordinating with EPA and NHTSA on a study of how a future vehicle design that incorporates high levels of mass reduction complies with vehicle safety standards and voluntary safety guidelines. NHTSA is also initiating a new study of the feasible amount of mass reduction based on a mid-size passenger car platform, and the effects of several advanced mass reduction design concepts on fleet safety. The NHTSA studies are being coordinated with EPA, DOE, and CARB.The agencies expect that several, but not all of these studies will be completed in time to inform the NPRM. Others are expected to be completed in time to inform the final rule [Emphasis added]

In other words, Issa is concluding that a delay in the final rule could be related to this study… which could affect safety. But lets face it, cars have never been safer… and unless the EPA has a mess on its hands with this report, this could easily end up being seen as what the kids call “concern trolling.” And some will likely conclude that’s the case based on the sheer scope of Issa’s assault on GHG regulation. Issa also sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today, in which, Bloomberg tells us

Issa also questioned the EPA’s role in writing a previous fuel-economy rule that takes effect next year, saying it negotiated with automakers around the same time General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC were getting U.S. bailout money. The timing “heightens the concern that the administration used the promise of taxpayer dollars to obtain GM and Chrysler’s support for the new fuel economy standards

This is probably the bridge too far. Issa has been harping on that theory for well over a year now, and it’s got him nowhere. And no surprise: the Obama Administration has always given the auto bailout a thin green veneer, so a successful investigation by Issa would only prove that the greenwashing had something behind it. Furthermore, the CAFE rules he’s talking about are riddled with loopholes,  and the subsequent version is even more riddled, and with larger loopholes. And that jives with what I’ve heard from industry lobbyists, who generally downplayed CARB’s power to pull the White House to the left, let alone the White House’s ability to set impossible standards. The line I got was that overhauling GM and Chrysler gave the government a “look under the hood,” which helped it see the OEM perspective on regulation.

Be that as it may, Issa is launching investigations into how the EPA and NHTSA handled auto GHG emissions regulation, adding to his ongoing investigation of the Obama Administration’s role in CAFE [PDF letter of investigation here]. He says his staff will “further review” the “serious questions” raised by the EPA Inspector General’s report. Say what you want about the guy’s politics, when he moves on something, he moves on something. And he’s definitely earning his title as Obama’s “Annoyer-in-Chief.”

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7 Comments on “EPA Inspector General Questions GHG Emissions Science, Issa Attacks On All Fronts...”

  • avatar
    Andy D

    This is similar to new car news and reviews on my interest level. My clunkers are old enough to be exempt in MA. However, relaxing standards is a slippery slope.

  • avatar

    12 scientist…and one being an employee?
    Yes, this type of report would soon be used in Michael Moore films or the next Al Gore speech as evidence of a government scientific “finding”.
    Chris Mathews will have goose bumps up his legs from it.
    So is it to much to ask that it be real and not a political rag?

    First, there is no better thing than to try to save on the use of oil or reduce polution. But someday a few of you need to visit the land of the east where pllution runs the waterways.
    Or read any real history book to understand how horrible, REALLY disgusting the city state of Athens alone was from the tanning of hides or pottery works right out in front of everyday life. EVERY city and town was this way.
    Or the smell of ANY town USA before the car replaced horse shit filled streets.
    So yes, we have come a long way and should try to keep up the never ending task of reducing polution.

    Oil will be needed for a long time and we continue to develop tech that requires oil…for example my entire car seems to be made of plastics inside AND now even my airline (787) is as well.
    So, yes, try to waste as little as possible.

    However, there is a rule I follow…that CONCENSUS does NOT make for science.
    It was the consensus that the earth was flat. MOST agreed.
    Did this mass agreement make it true?
    So maybe there is global warming, maybe not. Just a few decades ago these very same heads were telling me we were in a global cooling period!
    Certainly the causes are very complex and I will demand more than consensus to go on.

    Next…rules to play by.
    I am 1000% for regulations to protect my world. But do we need to force rules on ourselves then be confused as to why somebody else can make an item cheaper than ourselves??
    It seems funny when we talk about self regulation and then compete in a world where others are just laughing at how we burden ourselves with our own rules yet allow them to compete against us in out store without being hindered by these same rules.

    Shouldn’t EVERY outside manufacturer prove that they are following the very same rules BEFORE being allowed to compete on our shelves or lots?
    Is this so difficult to understand?

    They are laughing in China. Yes, force your consumer to purchase Fluorescent bulbs!
    WE make these and YOU do not…because of your regulations!!
    See in China…we don’t have these shackles!!! So, YES, please save your world while we win THE world.

  • avatar

    “However, relaxing standards is a slippery slope.”

    If they’re not careful, they’ll restore people’s property rights. Next thing you know, freedom will break out. Yep. It is a slipper slope.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    What no one wants to talk about is the fact that other ICE pollutants, previously regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act were demonstrably harmful to humans in a direct way. While carbon dioxide is toxic to humans, it is so at levels several orders of magnitude about that generated by ICEs. So the “harm” in this case requires a belief in a Rube Goldberg chain of causation that begins with carbon dioxide emissions from ICEs and ends with the Earth becoming sufficiently warmer than it is today so as to threaten human life. Not surprisingly, that’s a tall order, given that, in recorded history (i.e. about 1000 years ago) the Earth was significantly warmer than it is today, such that Greenland was habitable (which it is not today) and grapes for making wine could be grown on the British Isles (which they cannot be today).

    There is the further problem that, by the GW crowd’s own calculations, the mitigation effects they advocate will have a trivial effect on what they claim to see coming, while having very substantial and real costs if they are implemented.

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