Inspector General Criticizes EPA’s Procedural Steps in Greenhouse Gas Endangerment Finding

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OIG criticizes aspects of the peer review process used by EPA to develop an internal report on climate change pollutants.

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Even as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confronts opponents outside the agency over its regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the Clean Air Act, the agency has now faced criticism from within its organization about how the agency developed its scientific assessment of GHGs.

In 2009, the agency made an “endangerment finding” that concluded that GHGs are injurious to health and public welfare and may be regulated under the Clean Air Act. However, the EPA’s own Office of Inspector General (OIG), an independent auditing office within the agency, recently concluded that EPA did not follow all the peer review procedures it was supposed to follow in developing the scientific document supporting its endangerment finding.

In its report, Procedural Review of EPA’s Greenhouse Gases Endangerment Finding Data Quality Processes, the Inspector General concluded that the process of developing EPA’s endangerment finding did not comply fully with applicable peer review requirements. The Inspector General determined the 2009 finding needed to follow the procedures for peer review of a “highly influential scientific assessment” as defined by the Information Quality Act (IQA).  The Inspector General’s office found the agency failed to release publicly the results of its peer review process and the office drew issue with the fact that one of the peer reviewers was an EPA staff member.

The EPA has stated that it “disagrees strongly” with the Inspector General’s report, reiterating that it does not view its own internal report supporting the 2009 endangerment finding to have been a “Highly Influential Scientific Assessment.”  It has asserted that agency staff followed all proper guidelines in preparing the supporting materials for its endangerment finding.

The EPA has also emphasized that the Inspector General’s review did not in any way seek to assess the quality of the scientific information itself supported the agency’s conclusion that GHGs are injurious to health and public welfare.  The agency has maintained the scientific validity of the evidence underlying its endangerment finding.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, requested that the EPA Inspector General conduct its procedural review to determine whether its methods satisfied the steps called for under both the IQA and the relevant Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidelines requiring different levels of peer review for different types of scientific assessments.