The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has delayed issuing its climate change rules again. It had announced that it would release new greenhouse gas emission standards in July, but missed that deadline. It set a new one for Sept. 30. The EPA has announced it won’t make that deadline either. Now I think I know why.
In an April, 2010, letter to the Office of the Inspector General of the EPA (OIG), the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., demanded an investigation of the agency’s climate change rules and how they were determined. Today, the findings of that investigation were made public, and the EPA may have to go back to the drawing board. Climate-change skeptics will use the OIG’s findings to further delay emissions restrictions on greenhouse gases.
The investigation surrounds the EPA’s “endangerment finding.” That finding, based on the body of evidence, said that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The state of Massachusetts sued, and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The conservative court ruled in favor of the EPA and found it had authority under the Clean Air Act to set limits on greenhouse gases. The only avenue left to opponents, then, was legislation. Republican members of Congress have been busy dismantling the Clean Air Act, and pushing to defang the EPA ever since.
Sen. Inhofe took a different approach by demanding an investigation into how the EPA’s finding was achieved. You might remember Inhofe as the senator who has said that global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people. What is often left unsaid is that Inhofe has received more than $1 million in campaign funds from a host of fossil-fuel producers and related industries since 1999.
Inhofe complained to the OIG that certain protocols were not followed, that there were conflicts of interest in the review, and that the EPA relied on outside scientific findings to reach its conclusion on the dangers of greenhouse gases. Inhofe’s argument was that the EPA’s findings were of such influence that it should have conducted its own peer-review process of all the science cited in the finding. You can read the 92-page OIG report here.
The senator and the EPA disagree on whether the “finding” was a Technical Support Document (TSD) or a Highly Influential Scientific Assessment (HISA), a conclusion requiring a much more stringent process of review. The Inspector General found the EPA’s finding was the latter and required an additional level of peer-review.
Inhofe said today, in a press release: “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 the EPA’s decision-making process into question and undermines the credibility of the endangerment finding.”
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) wrote the rules on transparency in government, and was also consulted by the OIG. For the most part, OMB found that the EPA had every reason to believe that its conclusions, drawn from thousands of peer-reviewed documents, was merely a statement of the existing science, meeting the much lower standard of a Technical Support Document and thus followed the law. The OIG concluded that the finding met the greater standard of a highly influential scientific paper because it “synthesized” some of the findings. The EPA said it rejects that conclusion.
The OIG’s investigation will cause further delays in implementing the new greenhouse gas emission levels, and may even force EPA to conduct a new assessment which will take years to complete. That new assessment and endangerment finding will be argued in the courts, and someone in Congress will call for another investigation. Inhofe and his supporters are the winners in this contest, if holding off regulation of greenhouse gases was the point.
Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Scientific Integrity Program, issued this statement today:
“The inspector general made it clear that EPA followed current guidelines for ensuring that it based its decision on robust scientific analysis. Nothing in this report questions the agency’s ability to move forward with global warming emissions rules.
“The process matters, but the science matters more and in this endangerment finding, the science is accurate. Climate change is a threat to public health and welfare, and the peer-reviewed scientific assessments the EPA used back up that claim. The agency has accepted the IG’s findings and is taking appropriate action.”
There will be forthcoming charges that the EPA is corrupt and cannot be trusted on issues of clean air and global warming. The investigation found no such thing, but that will not stop the spin. What the OIG found was that the EPA relied on peer-reviewed science, but failed to peer-review the peer-reviewed material. EPA didn’t believe it had to, and the Office of Management and Budget, which wrote the rule book, said the EPA had fairly arrived at that conclusion.
Dr. Andrew Dessler, former senior policy analyst for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M. Dessler said: “This is a battle of lawyer versus lawyer. The issues here are not scientific. If we start taking scientific advice from lawyers, we are in deep trouble.”
In the meantime, Sen. Inhofe may have found a tactic more powerful than legislation. He has found investigations and threats of investigations can have a chilling effect on public policy. The Inspector General’s findings, which limit themselves to methodology rather than the underlying science on global warming, will nonetheless push EPA back onto its heels and garner Inhofe what he wants most, and that is no regulation of greenhouse gases.
Emboldened by this investigation, Inhofe called upon the Inspector General in August of this year to examine the manner in which the EPA reached its conclusion on ground-level ozone. The letter, by itself, may have been enough for President Obama to shelve his own ozone standards for two years.
Commentators said the president was caving into business pressures in a bad economy and turning on his environmentalist supporters. It may be just as likely that the president backed down on ozone for the same reason EPA has postponed announcing new standards under the “endangerment finding.”
That reason, it seems, has a name. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma — the U.S. Senate’s top recipient of campaign contributions from the oil industry.