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Legal Expert: EPA’s CO2 Rule Violates Federal Data Quality Law

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants doesn’t meet federally mandated data quality rules, according to legal experts, as the agency has failed to show how it resolved apparent conflicts of interest in the major climate studies relied upon to justify its new rule.

The new power plant rules rely on scientific work from the EPA’s 2009 endangerment finding and the Third National Climate Assessment, which was released earlier this year. Both of these reports, however, violate the Information Quality Act (IQA) and federal data quality guidelines, according to the Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development (ITSSD) — a legal research nonprofit.

The EPA says both of these climate studies underwent “rigorous and exacting peer review by the expert community, as well as rigorous levels of U.S. government review.” But ITSSD’s Lawrence Kogan disagrees, arguing this “is not true because EPA has… failed to substantiate how such peer review processes satisfied the most rigorous and least discretionary peer review, transparency, objectivity/bias, conflict-of-interest and administrative review standards imposed” by federal law.

“EPA’s failure to ensure that its process for validating these mostly third-party-developed major assessments satisfied the most rigorous and least discretionary peer review, transparency, conflict-of-interest, objectivity/bias, independence, panel balance and administrative review standards applicable to ‘highly influential scientific assessments,’” Kogan writes in public comments submitted to the EPA, “now precludes EPA, as a matter of law, from adopting, endorsing and using those assessments as the scientific foundation for its proposed power plant rule, unless EPA peer reviews them once again in conformance with such IQA standards.”

The EPA’s recently proposed rule that limits carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants has been politically divisive, as it would force many states to shutter coal-fired power plants and rethink their energy markets. The goal of the rule is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030 — something the EPA says will improve public health and cut electricity bills.

“Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life,” EPA chief Administrator Gina McCarthy said of the rule. “We don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment — our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs.”

The new rule is primarily supported by two documents: the EPA’s 2009 greenhouse gas endangerment finding, and the Obama administration’s Third National Climate Assessment. Both of these documents warn that man-made carbon dioxide is a main driver of global warming, which poses economic and health risks for the world.

But ITSSD says that both of the climate reports suffered from major problems, including potential conflicts of interest from the scientists tasked with reviewing and overseeing the development of these reports.

Kogan writes there “appears to be a virtuous circle of institutional conflicts-of-interest impacting the individual performances of numerous parties including scientists.” He argues that scientists from universities and research institutions get federal grants to conduct climate science and then are called to sit on peer review panels — often reviewing their own work.

“NOAA continues to develop and facilitate generous grant-funded climate science research-related programs and projects that it offers and/or makes available to universities and university research scientists to help further agency and administration domestic and international climate change policy,” Kogan writes. “Universities and faculty scientists are all-too-eager to participate in such programs and projects and to provide climate science research findings in exchange therefor, given the lucrative financial, reputational and travel benefits such contracts often engender.”

Kogan also notes that the EPA simply relied on the “reputation” of the of the National Research Council at the National Academy of Sciences when it peer-reviewed major climate assessments. Kogan found that many of these NRC reviewers suffered from conflicts of interest as well.

Kogan’s regulatory filing actually lists numerous scientists who partook in federal scientific and NRC review panels while taking government money and essentially reviewing their own work.

“In sum, the proffered evidence strongly suggests that no fewer than thirteen (13) of the twenty-one (21) members… of the NRC NCA3-2014 Peer Review Panel had suffered conflicts-of-interest and/or instances of subject matter bias and lack of independence that the NRC, and by extension… NOAA and EPA, had failed to identify, disclose and properly address,” Kogan writes.

The EPA did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

Update: An EPA spokeswoman sent out the following statement in response to TheDCNF’s article:

“History has shown that EPA writes solid rules and they stand up in court—courts have reaffirmed our science and reasoning time and time again. And it’s important to remember—the Supreme Court made clear in 2007, that EPA has obligation to limit carbon pollution because it’s a harm to human health. We are doing our jobs, as directe, to protect public health and the environment.”

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