Monday, November 23, 2009

During his Inauguration speech, President Obama famously said, “We will restore science to its rightful place.” Unfortunately, Mr. Obama’s “change” memo must not have reached the Environmental Protection Agency.

News recently broke of EPA’s efforts to effectively censor two agency attorneys who used a YouTube video to lay out some of the flaws with the cap-and-tax energy regulations that are working their way through Congress. This must have been just a bit too transparent for the EPA officials who threatened them with disciplinary actions.

This is not the first time Mr. Obama’s EPA has tried to silence critics. A joint investigation by Republican staff with the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform recently found that the EPA suppressed sound science to avoid delaying a finding that will allow for sweeping climate-change regulations.

The question before the EPA was not whether climate change exists, but rather how the EPA should treat the science of climate change under the Clean Air Act.

When Alan Carlin, a 37-year EPA veteran, offered a scientific report that attempted to update the agency’s nearly 2-year-old record, his office director responded, “Your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision.”

It wasn’t that Mr. Carlin’s report broke new scientific ground - it was mostly a summary of previously published scientific studies - but addressing the new evidence Mr. Carlin presented would have prevented EPA from issuing its scientific finding in time to influence congressional debate.

The EPA under the Obama administration held its first working-group meeting to consider the science behind its regulatory decision on March 3, 2009. Internal EPA documents show that the agency planned to conclude this review by March 18. The EPA gave itself just over two weeks to develop the scientific background for what was perhaps the largest regulatory finding in history.

Longtime EPA employees interviewed by congressional staff said they had never seen the EPA pursue a major regulatory finding on such an aggressive timeline.

Politically, the timing of EPA’s finding was perfect. The EPA laid the foundation for the most expensive regulatory scheme in the country’s history just as congressional debate on climate-change legislation was reaching its peak. This allowed proponents of the legislation to argue that Congress had to act quickly to prevent EPA from issuing economically disastrous regulations.

Even Mr. Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson argued that Congress should pre-empt EPA.

In more than 30 years in Congress, I had never seen this. The head of an executive agency was arguing that the solution she was proposing was so bad that Congress had to act quickly to stop her.

The EPA’s rush to further its political agenda had consequences. The congressional report found that the accelerated timeline forced EPA to rely almost exclusively on the nearly two-year-old scientific findings from the Bush administration.

As Mr. Carlin argued, ample new evidence had developed that the EPA willfully ignored. The EPA’s science was “at best, three years out of date in a rapidly changing field,” Mr. Carlin wrote in his report. “There have been important developments in areas that deserve careful attention.”

Administration officials and Democrats in Congress have, of course, dismissed the report’s finding, but their reasoning was curious. They pointed to the Bush administration’s 2007 finding as proof that the science behind EPA’s current finding is not in dispute. The report, however, found that EPA ignored new scientific evidence in order to meet a politically calculated deadline. The fact that the Bush administration reached the same conclusion just reinforces the point.

The environmental and economic impacts of our response to climate change are too important to leave to politics. Further, a regulatory finding that ignored at least two years of relevant data will be vulnerable to the inevitable legal challenges. The EPA needs to step back and allow science, not politics, to dictate its agenda.

Mr. Obama stated he would put science in its “rightful place.” It is now clear that, in this case, the “rightful place” was March 18 - just in time to provide talking points for the congressional debate.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin is ranking Republican on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

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