Following the lead of Sen. James Inhofe, conservative media are distorting an Inspector General's report in an attempt to discredit EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. But the IG report addresses obscure procedural issues, not the merits of EPA's finding or the science on which it was based, which even the Bush administration said was robust enough to require an endangerment finding.
Echoing Inhofe, Conservative Media Misrepresent IG Report
IG Report Was Ordered By Sen. Inhofe. A recent Inspector General report evaluated the procedures leading to EPA's December 2009 endangerment finding, which declared that greenhouse gases are a threat to public health and welfare and paved the way for regulations of emissions. The IG report states, "This evaluation was initiated based on a request from Senator James M. Inhofe, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works." It also says "The estimated direct labor and travel costs for this report are $297,385." [EPA Office of Inspector General report, 9/26/11]
Inhofe Now Misrepresenting IG Report. In a press release, Inhofe falsely asserted that the IG 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." [Press release, 9/28/11]
Inhofe Believes Manmade Climate Change Is A "Hoax." Inhofe, who reportedly has a book coming out called The Hoax, has called manmade global warming the "greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people." [NPR, 12/7/06]
Daily Caller Falsely Reported That Inspector General "Calls Greenhouse Gas Science Flawed." In an article titled "Weird science: EPA's own Inspector General calls greenhouse gas science flawed," [UPDATE: The Daily Caller has since changed its headline to "Weird science: EPA Inspector General calls greenhouse-gas regulatory process flawed"] The Daily Caller covered an Inspector General report regarding the procedures surrounding EPA's December 2009 endangerment finding, which declared greenhouse gases a threat to public health and welfare and paved the way for regulations of emissions. The Daily Caller falsely reported that the "scientific basis" of the endangerment finding for greenhouse gases "violated the EPA's own peer review procedure." The article went on to uncritically quote Inhofe at length. [Daily Caller, 9/28/11]
Lou Dobbs Claimed EPA Finding "Didn't Live Up To Its Own Scientific Standards." In a Facebook post, Fox's Lou Dobbs wrote, "well, looks like the EPA has some explaining to do... turns out its findings that greenhouse gases present a danger to "pubic [sic] health and welfare" didn't live up to its own scientific standards." [Facebook, 9/28/11]
National Review Online Repeated Inhofe's False Claims. An NRO post uncritically quotes Inhofe's press release, including the baseless claim that the IG report shows the endangerment finding was "rushed, biased and flawed." [National Review Online, 9/28/11]
IG Report Did Not Question Scientific Soundness Of EPA's Finding
Inspector General Evaluation Did Not Address The Merit Of EPA's Endangerment Finding. From the IG report:
Our evaluation focused only on EPA's process for developing the endangerment finding and ensuring information quality. We did not evaluate the effectiveness of IPCC's or other organizations' information quality procedures. We did not test the validity of the scientific or technical information used by EPA to support its endangerment finding, nor did we evaluate the merit of the conclusions or analyses presented in EPA's endangerment finding. We did not make conclusions regarding the impact that EPA's information quality control systems may have had on the scientific information used to support the endangerment finding. [EPA Office of Inspector General report, 9/26/11]
EPA Relied On Peer-Reviewed Assessments Of Peer-Reviewed Science. EPA's finding was based on peer-reviewed reports on climate change science, which in turn were based on peer-reviewed studies. The finding then "underwent a technical review by 12 federal climate change experts, internal EPA review, interagency review, and a public comment period." The recent IG report says guidelines put in place during the Bush administration require additional peer-review measures. From EPA's endangerment finding:
This document relies most heavily on existing, and in most cases very recent, synthesis reports of climate change science and potential impacts, which have undergone their own peer-review processes, including review by the U.S. government. Box 1.1 describes this process11. The information in this document has been developed and prepared in a manner that is consistent with EPA's Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, Utility and Integrity of Information Disseminated by the Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA 2002). In addition to its reliance on existing and recent synthesis reports, which have each gone through extensive peer-review procedures, this document also underwent a technical review by 12 federal climate change experts, internal EPA review, interagency review, and a public comment period.
This version of the TSD, as well as previous versions of the TSD dating back to 2007, have taken the approach of relying primarily on these assessment reports because they 1) are very recent and represent the current state of knowledge on GHG emissions, climate change science, vulnerabilities, and potential impacts; 2) have assessed numerous individual, peer-reviewed studies in order to draw general conclusions about the state of science; 3) have been reviewed and formally accepted, commissioned, or in some cases authored by U.S. government agencies and individual government scientists; and 4) they reflect and convey the consensus conclusions of expert authors. [Environmental Protection Agency, 12/7/09]
Even Bush Admin. Acknowledged That An Endangerment Finding Was Required By The Science
April 2007: Supreme Court Said EPA Has The Authority To Regulate Greenhouse Gases. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 opinion authored by then-Justice John Paul Stevens, stated on April 2, 2007: "Because greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act's capacious definition of 'air pollutant,' we hold that EPA has the statutory authority to regulate the emission of such gases from new motor vehicles." The ruling further stated that "EPA can avoid taking further action only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do." [Massachusetts v. EPA, 4/2/07]
December 2007: Bush White House Refused To Accept EPA's Draft Endangerment Finding On GHGs. On December 5, 2007, then-EPA official Jason Burnett sent the White House a draft endangerment finding, which stated: "The Administrator proposes to find that the air pollution of elevated levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public welfare." The White House reportedly refused to open the email and the document was not made public until October 2009. [Greenwire, 10/13/09]
January 2008: EPA Administrator Told Bush That The Administration Must Issue Endangerment Finding. In a January 31, 2008, letter to the president, EPA administrator Stephen Johnson said that the Massachusetts v. EPA decision and "the latest science of climate change" require the EPA "to propose a positive endangerment finding, as was agreed to at the Cabinet-level meeting in November." Johnson further stated that regardless of energy legislation passed in 2007, "a finding is still required by the Supreme Court case, and the state of the latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research." The letter was made public in February 2011. [Wall Street Journal, 2/8/11]
July 2008: Bush EPA Decided To Delay GHG Regulations Until Next Administration. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Bush administration "rejected its own experts' conclusion that global warming poses a threat to the public welfare, launching a comment period that will delay action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least until the next president takes office." Along with this "Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking," the EPA administrator released "several critical comments from senior officials undercutting his staff's work." [Los Angeles Times, 7/12/08]
December 2009: EPA Announced GHG Endangerment Finding. After reviewing over 380,000 public comments, the EPA issued findings "that the current and projected concentrations of the mix of six key greenhouse gases-carbon dioxide ... in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations" and that emissions greenhouse gases "from new motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines contribute to the atmospheric concentrations of these key greenhouse gases and hence to the threat of climate change." [EPA, 12/7/09]
IG Report Found EPA "Met Statutory Requirements"
Inspector General: "EPA Met Statutory Requirements For Rulemaking." The Inspector General opened the report with the conclusion that "EPA met statutory requirements for rulemaking and generally followed requirements and guidance related to ensuring the quality of the supporting technical information." [EPA Office of Inspector General report, 9/26/11]
Inspector General Gave "Opinion" That EPA's Finding Should Have Been Categorized Differently Under OMB Guidelines. From the IG report:
Whether EPA's review of its endangerment finding TSD [technical support document] met Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirements for peer review depends on whether the TSD is considered a highly influential scientific assessment. 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 Office of Inspector General report, 9/26/11]
OMB Itself Said EPA Followed OMB Peer Review Requirements. From the IG report:
OMB stated that it believes that EPA reasonably interpreted the OMB peer review bulletin in concluding that the TSD did not meet the bulletin's definition of a highly influential scientific assessment. OMB commented that EPA concluded that it was the separate, underlying assessments of the IPCC, USGCRP, and NRC that met OMB's definition of a scientific assessment. EPA's TSD, according to OMB, provided a condensed form of the three underlying assessments. [EPA Office of Inspector General report, 9/26/11]
Inspector General Recommended Procedural Changes For The Future. The Inspector General did not recommend that the EPA revise its endangerment finding. The recommendations from the Inspector General were simply technical procedural changes:
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. EPA stated that its response to the final report will address our recommendations. [EPA Office of Inspector General report, 9/26/11]
OMB Peer Review Requirements Were Controversial When Created In 2005. The Boston Globe reported in August 2005:
The controversial head of the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (and former head of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis), [John] Graham is responsible for the review of government regulations in the Bush White House.
Not long after coming into office, Graham seized upon the Data Quality Act and instructed federal agencies to draw up their own guidelines for implementing it by October 2002, when the law would go into effect. Then, in September 2003, claiming the Data Quality Act gave his office a newfound role in improving the quality of government science, Graham proposed using the act's thin language to justify an unprecedented government-wide "peer review" system for agency science.
As legal scholar Wendy Wagner of the University of Texas argued in a recent article entitled "The 'Bad Science' Fiction," there's little real evidence to support the notion that government agencies churn out "junk science"-a frequent industry accusation-or that their existing peer review protocols are inadequate. So it's no surprise that scientific heavyweights like the American Public Health Association and American Association for the Advancement of Science announced their concerns over Graham's initial proposal, which would have required review of all "significant regulatory information," and an additionally laborious review process for data with "a possible impact of more than $100 million in any year."
Most significantly, perhaps, the proposal would have blocked academic scientists from serving as reviewers if they had obtained or were seeking "substantial" research funding from the government agency in question-a condition likely to exclude leading academic experts in a field-yet showed little concern about the participation of industry scientists. Graham's office subsequently softened the proposal, and removed this most objectionable of requirements.
But the administration has still failed to adequately explain why such a "peer review" system was needed in the first place. After all, no government-wide standard for peer review existed in the past-and that may have been a good thing. Different agencies have different needs, just as different scientific disciplines employ different methodologies and standards of proof.
Furthermore, concern about onerous and unnecessary intrusions into the regulatory process remain warranted. The process for vetting "highly influential scientific assessments" under the new peer review plan remains quite burdensome, requiring the preparation of a peer review report that must be made public and a written response from the agency.
Such procedures will only further ossify an already sluggish regulatory process. And as "peer review" critic Sidney A. Shapiro, of the Wake Forest University School of Law, has observed, these procedures are required even for "routine information" that is not "complex, controversial, or novel."
Such objections notwithstanding, in December of last year Graham's office finalized the peer review plan. Its provisions for "highly influential scientific assessments" took effect on June 16. The media hardly noticed. Below the radar, as always, expansion of the Data Quality Act continues apace. [Boston Globe, 8/28/05, via Nexis]