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Gina McCarthy testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on her nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on Capitol Hill in Washington April 11, 2013. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts) Gina McCarthy testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on her nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on Capitol Hill in Washington April 11, 2013. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)  

‘MUZZLED’: EPA silenced scientists that challenged their agenda

The Environmental Protection Agency silenced scientific advisers who expressed concerns over the agency’s proposed carbon dioxide emissions limits for coal-fired power plants, House Republicans claim.

Republicans on the House’s science committee wrote a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy expressing concern that the agency ignored scientists charged with reviewing carbon emissions limits for new power plants. Scientists said that the agency rushed through the regulatory process and that the underlying science of the rule lacked adequate peer review.

“We are concerned about the agency’s apparent disregard for the concerns of its science advisors,” the Republican lawmakers wrote. “Science is a valuable tool to help policymakers navigate complex issues.”

“However, when inconvenient facts are disregarded or when dissenting voices are muzzled, a frank discussion becomes impossible,” the lawmakers continued. “The EPA cannot continue to rush ahead with costly regulations without allowing time for a real-world look at the science.”

Republicans previously asked the EPA about how it responded to the scientific reviewers’ concerns, but agency officials distanced themselves from their own advisers, according to the letter. Specifically, lawmakers questioned the agency’s requirement that coal plants must install carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology in order to be built. The agency, however, said that their new power plant rule does not need to address such concerns about CCS.

“The claim that the rule doesn’t need to address storage concerns highlights your agency’s continued lack of transparency and consistent attempts to avoid accountability,” the Republicans added..

“The EPA’s proposed power plant regulations will put Americans out of work and will make electricity more expensive and less reliable,” they continued. “It is misleading and dangerous for EPA to quietly dismiss inconvenient facts and ignore the consequences of its costly regulations.  Americans deserve honesty.”

The EPA’s proposed power plant emissions limits would essentially require that all new coal-fired power plants be built using CCS technology, which is not a commercially proven technology.

“Carbon capture and sequestration technology can help us reduce carbon pollution and move us toward a cleaner, more stable environment,” said Mathy Stanislaus, EPA’s assistant administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

The agency justified imposing CCS requirements on U.S. coal plants based on three government-backed projects — one under construction in Mississippi and two planned in Texas and California. The agency also cited one Canadian government-backed project under construction.

However, the coal industry argues that there are no commercial-scale coal plants using CCS operating in the country. Republicans also argue that the EPA violated the Environmental Policy Act by mandating technology where the only examples of it are government-supported.

“In light of these statutory prohibitions, we request that the EPA’s proposed rule, which has not yet been published in the Federal Register, be withdrawn,” reads a letter to the EPA from Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “This will ensure that the agency does not propose standards beyond its legal authority. This will also ensure that stakeholders and the public will not have to incur additional costs to respond to a proposal that contravenes applicable law.”

Even former Obama administration officials have expressed skepticism about CCS technology’s commercial viability.

“[I]t is disingenuous to state that the technology is ‘ready,’” said Charles McConnell, who was the assistant secretary of energy until January. He now serves as the executive director of the Energy & Environment Initiative at Rice University.

“Studies have verified that implementation of [CSS] technology is necessary to comply with EPA’s proposed [EPA carbon-emissions limits] regulation and meet the [greenhouse gas] targets necessary for limiting CO2 emissions to our atmosphere,” McConnell said in his prepared congressional testimony. “However, commercial [CSS] technology currently is not available to meet EPA’s proposed rule. The cost of current CO2 capture technology is much too high to be commercially viable.”

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