EPA Inspector General: Key Endangerment Finding Document Needed More Review

In a major development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of the Inspector General (IG) today said a key document underpinning the agency’s so-called “endangerment finding”—the determination that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare and legally supports agency rules that regulate carbon dioxide emissions—required a “more rigorous peer review than occurred.” 

The report had been requested by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, who had asked the IG to determine whether the agency had followed key federal and agency regulations and policies in developing and reviewing the technical data used to make and support its endangerment finding.

Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. said in a statement today that his office had evaluated the EPA’s compliance with established policies and procedures associated in the development of the endangerment finding, including those processes for ensuring information quality.

“We concluded that the technical support document that accompanied EPA’s endangerment finding is a highly influential scientific assessment and thus required a more rigorous EPA peer review than occurred. EPA did not certify whether it complied with OMB’s or its own peer review policies in either the proposed or final endangerment findings as required,” he said.

“While it may be debatable what impact, if any, this had on EPA’s finding, it is clear that EPA did not follow all required steps for a highly influential scientific assessment.”

The report said that the agency made “statutory requirements for rulemaking and generally followed requirements and guidance related to ensuring the quality of the supporting technical information.”

But it disputes the EPA and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirements for peer review. The EPA did not consider the technical support document (TSD) “a highly influential scientific assessment,” because, as officials told the IG’s office that  it consisted only of “science that was previously peer reviewed, and that these reviews were deemed adequate under the Agency’s policy.”

“In our opinion, the TSD was a highly influential scientific assessment because EPA weighed the strength of the available science by its choices of information, data, studies, and conclusions included in and excluded from the TSD,” the IG’s office said in the report, however.

The office reported that the EPA had the TSD reviewed by a panel of 12 federal climate change scientists, but that “this review did not meet all OMB requirements for peer review of a highly influential scientific assessment primarily because the review results and EPA’s response were not publicly reported, and because 1 of the 12 reviewers was an EPA employee.”

Sen. Inhofe today called “the scientific integrity of EPA’s decision-making process into question,” saying it “undermines the credibility of the endangerment finding.”

“I am calling for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the committee of jurisdiction over the EPA, to hold immediate hearings to address EPA’s failure to provide the required documentation and have the science impartially reviewed,” he said in a statement.

Sources: POWERnews, EPA Office of the Inspector General

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