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Republicans press Obama EPA nominee on transparency issues

Congressional Republicans are already pressing Environmental Protection Agency assistant administrator Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s pick for the agency’s new administrator, on the EPA’s use of secret data to formulate air quality rules.

“EPA has continually refused to make public the basic scientific data underlying virtually all of the Agency’s claimed benefits from new Clean Air Act (CAA) rules,” wrote Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith and Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter in a letter to McCarthy. “Everyone agrees on the importance of clean air, but EPA needs to release the secret data they use in formulating new rules.”

Smith and Vitter specifically pointed to the lack of transparency behind the EPA’s forthcoming review of National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone.

“The EPA’s new CAA regulations are expected to be some of the most costly the federal government has ever issued,” wrote the lawmakers. “Relying on secret data to support these rules is not acceptable. The public and outside scientists must be able to independently verify the EPA’s claims, especially when the results are contradicted by so many other studies.”

Last December, Republicans pressed former EPA chief administrator Lisa Jackson over concerns that the agency’s new soot rule was rushed and relied heavily on non-transparent data. Republicans demanded that the agency release the secret data sets and base future regulatory decisions on publicly available available information.

The data sets requested by Republicans are the sole basis for 85 percent of the EPA’s claim of $2 trillion worth of Clean Air Act benefits between 1990 and 2020. The EPA’s assertion that benefits of CAA regulations exceed the costs by a 30-to-1 ratio originates from the secret data sets as well.

“Put succinctly, it is likely that a majority of the benefits claimed from all federal regulations are grounded in data sets that have never been made available to the public,” wrote House Republicans in their letter to Jackson.

The Obama administration has repeatedly denied requests from committee members to make the relevant data sets available.

“These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act. We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness in our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air,” said Jackson.

The EPA estimates that the health benefits from the new rule on soot pollution will range from $4 billion to $9 billion per year and will cost between $53 million and $350 million. The agency also said that 99 percent of U.S. counties will meet the standard by 2020 without taking any additional action.

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