Energy & Environment

Nothing sound about EPA science

Three years after President Obama’s inaugural promise to “restore science to its rightful place,” independent government agencies have uncovered numerous instances of scientific abuse at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  As the EPA grapples with this criticism as well as a recent embarrassing court decision, President Obama must have felt compelled last week to appear at headquarters to give his EPA a “pep talk.”

Flawed endangerment finding

The President’s EPA morale boost came just months after an Office of the Inspector General report found that the EPA cut corners and short-circuited the required peer review process for its December 2009 endangerment finding, which is the foundation for EPA’s plan to regulate greenhouse gases.  EPA was dealt another blow to its scientific integrity when President Obama forced the agency to withdraw its plan to tighten the ozone standards because the economic and scientific analyses were so blatantly unsound.

More recently, an extraordinary D.C. Circuit Court ruling in December blocked EPA from moving forward with its signature air rule, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, because EPA failed to follow an adequate, open and transparent process.

And just last week, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report confirmed that EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program–which EPA acknowledges is the “scientific foundation for decisions”–is flawed.  The report highlights “both long-standing and new challenges” EPA faces in implementing the IRIS program, echoing previous concerns from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that the agency is basing its decisions on shoddy scientific work.

Scientific concerns also extend to EPA’s recent activities regarding hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”  Last month, the agency released a highly criticized draft report on an investigation attempting to link fracking to ground water contamination near Pavillion, Wyo.  This draft report–which has yet to undergo peer review and has substantial data gaps as well as methodological concerns–supplements a broader agency study on the potential impacts of fracking on drinking water resources, which has likewise been criticized for not adhering to established scientific procedures. 

It’s unfortunate that the EPA under President Obama has degenerated into an agency that won’t review, assess, share or critically analyze its scientific work.  We voiced our concerns with the quality of work coming out of EPA regarding the ozone standard in a nine-page letter last June, in which we asked EPA to address numerous questions related to significant matters of scientific integrity, weight of evidence, data selection, conclusions and impacts based on the best available scientific and economic analysis.  We have not yet received a response.  In fact, EPA was so reluctant to have any review of their work that it was necessary to block a key nominee in order to get EPA to contract with the NAS for a single review.  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson later admitted on the record that the NAS review would not have happened without the hold.

It was White House Science Advisor John Holdren, who promised to ensure “Executive Branch policies are informed by sound science.”  In October 2011, along with House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, we sent Holdren a nine-page letter asking more than 30 specific questions relating to scientific matters and concerns of scientific integrity at multiple agencies.  In December, Holdren refused to answer even a single question. 

When EPA fails to act after multiple concerns are raised by the GAO, the NAS, and even the agency’s own inspector general, the only conclusion is that EPA is fraught with a dangerous willingness to disregard scientific evidence when it contradicts the agency’s political goals.

EPA’s science–the foundation of the Obama Administration’s damaging regulatory agenda–is not sound.  And because the administration refuses to be transparent, we don’t have any clue whether anyone at the White House or EPA is even trying to fix the problem.

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