IG Finds EPA Greenhouse Gas Review Lacked Transparency

In a report released today, the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finds that the Agency violated executive peer-review requirements for the scientific assessment used to back their finding that greenhouse gases (GHG) endanger human welfare

The controversial and precedent setting “endangerment finding” was based on what’s called the technical support document (TSD), essentially the legal and scientific catalyst for EPA’s coming regulations of GHGs.

Specifically, Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. found that EPA violated neutrality rules by including an EPA employee in the panel of experts reviewing the TSD. It’s bad enough that the regulators are tasked with conjuring the evidence needed to expand their regulatory powers. But apparently now they’re tasked with reviewing their own work.

Perhaps even more unsettling is the finding that EPA did not make the results of the review public.

The report states:

EPA had the TSD 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. 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 report is not a review of the underlying science used to create the endangerment finding, only a review of the process involved in its creation.

Senator Inhofe, Ranking Member on the Environment and Public Works Committee and an outspoken critic of EPA’s regulation of GHG, quickly issued a statement asking for a hearing on the subject. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s David Doniger dismissed the report, asking “what peer-review procedures Senator Inhofe uses before he posts things on his website… There’s an absurdity here that deserves calling out.”

So the position is “if you can do it so can we”?

Other environmentalists have been quick to dismiss the report (this time with substance), arguing that the TSD was not an original scientific assessment and therefore does not need to follow transparency and scientific requirements. In an interview with E&E (subscription required) a representative from the Union of Concerned Scientists defending the document:

“The key difference here was that they didn’t create new science,” said Francesca Grifo, a scientist who heads the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “And typically, when you call something a highly influential scientific assessment, you actually added some other data, or used grey literature, or did something that hadn’t already been fully reviewed.”

“And they didn’t in this case. Everything they used had been multiply peer-reviewed,” she added.

So let me get this straight: Once a scientific study has been peer-reviewed it should no longer be subject to review? Does past research automatically pass muster if applied to new research? Or, in this case, do the findings logically lead to government intervention? This is what lobbyists do in drafting one-pagers for Hill staffers, not what government regulators do when creating precedent-setting documents with wide ranging implications.

The IG responds:

In our opinion, the [technical support document] met the definition of a scientific assessment in that it evaluated a body of scientific knowledge and synthesized multiple factual inputs. While we agree that the primary information EPA relied upon were scientific assessments, these assessments were voluminous and numerous.

This was not merely an advocacy document or even a scientific review, this was the document that is the basis for an entirely new line of regulations.

Maybe everything in the finding is correct. Maybe everything Al Gore says is right. At least this is what we hear constantly — that all scientists agree. If this is truly the case, environmentalists and those advocating government interference in GHG emissions should go above-and-beyond even the minimum scientific standards to ensure there is no opportunity to cry foul on transparency claims. I won’t hold my breath.

Adam Peshek is a research associate at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets, where he focuses on energy and environmental policy.