Politics Trump Scientific Integrity

In their recent endangerment finding draft technical support document (TSD), scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conclude that carbon dioxide emissions are a public health hazard and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Federal law requires that regulations be based on scientific information that is "accurate, clear, complete, and unbiased"; the most recent available; and collected by the "best available methods." The EPA’s TSD on carbon emissions violates all of these requirements.

Rush to Judgment

Lisa Jackson, the new EPA administrator, gave her staff only a few weeks to prepare a TSD for carbon emissions. It should have taken a year or two. The TSD is the technical documentation that must be finalized before the EPA can promulgate carbon regulations, hence the haste. The short schedule to prepare the TSD forced staff scientists to pick between two poor choices: maintain the required scientific checks and balances but miss the TSD deadline of April 2 (the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision allowing the agency to regulate CO2) or compromise their internal scientific review processes and meet the schedule. They chose option two.

The EPA working group that authored the TSD circulated its draft in mid-March for an internal review. Staff researcher Dr. Alan Carlin, a 38-year EPA veteran, was given less than five days to prepare his comments. Carlin prepared a blistering 98-page report that was extremely critical of the TSD’s scientific rigor because EPA "decisions [were] based on a scientific hypothesis that does not appear to explain most of the available data."

Action, Meet Reaction

The EPA’s overreaction was immediate when Carlin’s report went public. The EPA’s director of the National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE), Al McGartland, first worried about the inevitable political fallout in a March 17 e-mail: "The administrator and the administration has decided to move forward… and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision." McGartland obviously missed Jackson’s January memo promising to keep the politics out of scientific inquiry: "I will ensure EPA’s efforts to address the environmental crises of today are rooted in three fundamental values: science-based policies and programs, adherence to the rule of law, and overwhelming transparency."

McGartland’s next knee-jerk response was to issue a gag order: "Please do not have any direct communication with anyone outside of (our group) on endangerment. There should be no meetings, e-mails, written statements, phone calls, etc." In an interview with CBSNews.com, Carlin said, "I was told… not to work on climate change."

The EPA’s final comments were simply outrageous — they seek to discredit the messenger. In a written statement in response to media questions about Carlin’s report, the EPA noted that "The individual in question is not a scientist and was not part of the working group dealing with this issue." The EPA completely ignores Carlin’s credentials (a BS in physics from CalTech and PhD in economics from MIT), yet he was sufficiently qualified to be part of the internal review team of the draft TSD and to work at the NCEE for many years. Carlin suddenly became unqualified when he asked hard questions and was unwilling to rubber-stamp the TSD.

Three Categories of Errors Found

Carlin’s report outlines six specific reasons why the scientific basis for the TSD is flawed. I don’t have room here for the details, but they’re persuasive and worth reading at http://cei.org/cei_files/fm/active/0/DOC062509-004.pdf. Carlin succinctly summed up the TSD’s flawed science this way: "Until and unless these and many other inconsistencies… are adequately explained it would appear premature to attribute all or even any of what warming has occurred to changes in GHG/CO2 atmospheric levels."

Carlin pointed out that the EPA used short-cuts to buttress the endangerment findings. Much of the TSD is based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) studies and models rather than on independent research and studies conducted by EPA scientists, as has been its historical practice. "These inconsistencies are so important and sufficiently abstruse that in our view EPA needs to make an independent analysis of the science of global warming rather than adopting the conclusions of the IPCC and the CCSP [Climate Change Science Program] without much more careful and independent EPA staff review than is evidenced by the TSD," he wrote.

Carlin also pointed out that "there is an obvious logical problem posed by steadily increasing US health and welfare measures and the alleged endangerment of health and welfare discussed in this draft TSD during a period of rapid rise in at least CO2 ambient levels. This discontinuity either needs to be carefully explained in the draft TSD or the conclusions changed."

The EPA has not responded to the concerns raised in Carlin’s critique of the TSD in the three months since it was made public.

The Essence of Science

Carlin wrote in his critique that science requires experimentally determining the correctness of a hypothesis by comparing empirical data with real-world data. It’s not a statement of belief.

Here’s my critique of the TSD: It’s EPA’s scientific integrity that is endangered.

—Dr. Robert Peltier, PE is POWER’s editor-in-chief.