The EPA’s internal watchdog said this week that the Obama administration cut corners in evaluating the science it used to back up its 2009 finding that carbon is a dangerous pollutant and can be regulated under existing federal law.
The report by the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general, dated Sept. 26 but released Wednesday, is certain to be used in court by those seeking to overturn EPA’s claim that it can write global warming rules under existing law, and doesn’t need new authority from Congress.
Investigators did not question EPA’s scientific conclusions that human-caused global warming is occurring, and said the agency did follow basic rules. But investigators said EPA didn’t treat the finding as seriously as the situation required, and failed to meet administration guidelines for peer review of such a major issue.
“EPA had the [science] reviewed by a panel of 12 federal climate-change scientists. However, the panel’s findings and EPA’s disposition of the findings were not made available to the public as would be required for reviews of highly influential scientific assessments,” the investigators said. “Also, this panel did not fully meet the independence requirements for reviews of highly influential scientific assessments because one of the panelists was an EPA employee.”
The inspector general said EPA failed from the outset to identify the Technical Support Document, or TSD, as “influential,” which would subject it to heightened standards of scientific review.
EPA rejected the report, saying the science it did use was peer reviewed, and that its findings were based on the work of other major bodies, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“No weighing of information, data and studies occurred in the [technical document],” the agency said in its official comment submitted to the report. “That had already occurred in the underlying assessments, where the scientific synthesis occurred and where the state of the science was assessed.”
EPA said it used the best science available, as compiled and reviewed by the IPCC, the U.S. Global Climate Research Program and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
The agency said those other bodies all did the peer reviews required for research of this magnitude, and then EPA summarized their conclusions, and that summary was then submitted to a panel of climate scientists for final review.
At issue is EPA’s claim that it can regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Under its 2009 “endangerment finding” that emitting greenhouse gases poses a threat to human health.
If it stands, that finding means that EPA can use existing laws to control emissions.
But the finding has been challenged in court, with opponents questioning the science EPA used for its finding — and they said the inspector general’s report will give them ammunition to use.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, called for hearings into EPA’s decision-making.
“EPA needs to explain to the American people why it blatantly circumvented its own procedures to make what appears to be a predetermined endangerment finding,” said Mr. Inhofe of Oklahoma.
David Doniger, the climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Mr. Inhofe’s accusations were “laughable,” and that EPA’s conclusions are backed by climate science.