Thursday, September 29, 2011

Report: EPA cut corners on climate finding

Dina Cappiello

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration cut corners when it produced a key scientific document underpinning its decision to regulate climate-changing pollution, an internal government watchdog said Wednesday.

The inspector general's report says the Environmental Protection Agency should have followed a more robust review process for a technical paper supporting its determination that greenhouse gases posed dangers to human health and welfare, a finding that ultimately compelled it to issue costly and controversial regulations to control greenhouse gases for the first time.

The EPA and White House disagreed with the report's conclusions. They said the greenhouse gas document did not require more independent scrutiny because the scientific evidence it was based on already had been thoroughly reviewed.

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

The greenhouse gas decision — which marked a reversal from the Bush administration — was announced in December 2009, a week before President Barack Obama headed to international negotiations in Denmark on a new treaty to curb global warming. At the time, progress was stalled in a Democrat-controlled Congress on a new law to reduce emissions in the United States.

The IG report does not challenge the scientific consensus around the causes of global warming. In 2010, a survey of more than 1,000 of the world's most cited and published climate scientists found that 97 percent believe climate change is very likely caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

But by highlighting what it calls "procedural deviations," the report provides ammunition to Republicans and industry lawyers fighting the Obama administration over its decision to use the 40-year-old Clean Air Act to fight global warming. While the Supreme Court said in 2007 that the act could be used to control greenhouse gases, after the Bush administration repeatedly said it couldn't, the Republican-controlled House has passed legislation to change that.

The bill has so far been stymied by the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who requested the inspector general's investigation and one of Congress' most vocal climate skeptics, said Wednesday that the report confirms that "the very foundation of President Obama's job-destroying agenda was rushed, biased and flawed."

Environmentalists, meanwhile, said Wednesday the inspector general was nitpicking at the public's expense. The investigation cost nearly $300,000.

"The process matters, but the science matters more," said Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Nothing in this report questions the agency's ability to move forward with global warming emissions rules."

A prominent environmental attorney and Columbia University law professor also questioned what effect, if any, the report would have on global warming policy.

Michael Gerrard said that while lawyers and politicians would try to use the report to fight EPA regulations, the scientific case for global warming has only gotten stronger.

The report itself found that EPA "generally" adhered to data quality requirements. But it said while the agency's document was based on well-established and peer-reviewed science, it required additional independent scrutiny because the agency had to weigh the strength of that science. The inspector general specifically pointed out that the EPA did not publicly report the results of the review, and one of a dozen experts who reviewed the document worked at the agency.

The Obama administration has made a big deal about the importance of peer review.

Six weeks after taking office in 2009, Obama issued a memo that said: "When scientific or technological information is considered in policy decisions, the information should be subject to well-established scientific processes, including peer review where appropriate, and each agency should appropriately and accurately reflect that information in complying with and applying relevant statutory standards."

A year later, the president's science adviser, John Holdren, emphasized the "particular importance" of outside review by scientists.
Associated Press Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this story.
Follow Dina Cappiello on Twitter (at)dinacappiello
EPA inspector general's report: 

Help Us Transmit This Story

    Add to Your Blogger Account
    Put it On Facebook
    Tweet this post
    Print it from your printer
     Email and a collection of other outlets
     Try even more services

No comments:

Post a Comment