Is the EPA colluding with environmental groups to feign widespread public support for tighter ground-level ozone regulations? That’s what a pro-business group critical of the EPA’s ozone rule is suggesting.
“Given the EPA’s track record, we should all be highly skeptical of the agency’s rulemaking process,” wrote Karen Kerrigan, president of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.
“And specifically we need to be deeply concerned about the possibility of well-connected environmental and political groups setting an ozone standard that cannot be justified factually, much less economically,” Kerrigan wrote. “In fact, based upon EPA’s hand in helping to spearhead special-interest driven regulation, the questions for the agency regarding its ozone [National Ambient Air Quality Standards] will only get tougher from here.”
The EPA is proposing tightening national ground-level ozone standards from 75 parts per million to between 65 and 70 parts per million. The agency says a tighter standard is needed to protect public health and reduce asthma, but Republicans and business interests argue the ozone rule could be the costliest regulation ever proposed.
Republican lawmakers are particularly concerned over the ozone rule in the wake of a report by The New York Times that the EPA colluded with environmental groups in a broad public relations campaign to promote the agency’s recent “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule.
The EPA claimed that 90 percent of the 1 million public comments submitted for the WOTUS rule were in favor of expanding EPA control over U.S. waters. The New York Times, however, found the “E.P.A. had a hand in manufacturing” this alleged public support.
While the EPA probably didn’t break any federal laws, the Times notes it may have violated a longstanding Department of Justice position against grassroots lobbying by federal agencies.
“In a campaign that tests the limits of federal lobbying law, the agency orchestrated a drive to counter political opposition from Republicans and enlist public support in concert with liberal environmental groups and a grassroots organization aligned with President Obama,” the Times reports.
EPA allegedly worked with groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and Organizing for Action to promote the WOTUS rule and get activists to submit regulatory comments in favor of the rule. Kerrigan notes these same groups have submitted thousands of comments in favor of tighter ozone standards.
The Center for Regulatory Solutions — a project of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council — analyzed comments for the ozone rule and found that the Natural Resources Defense Council generated 17,000 comments; 74,000 comments came from the Sierra Club; and there were 28,000 comments from Organizing for Action. Center for Regulatory Solutions also noted the American Lung Association generated 4,700 comments in support of tighter ozone standards.
The Center for Regulatory Solutions found that “the four groups generated more than 124,000 mass comments in support of the EPA,” according to Kerrigan. Comments from these activist groups make up nearly 30 percent of the total submitted for the record on EPA’s ozone rule.
Environmentalists, however, have rejected the notion they colluded with the EPA to push tighter standards. The EPA has also rejected accusations of collusion.
The Natural Resources Defense Council “is working ON (not with) the EPA to issue the most protective ozone safeguards possible,” council spokesman Edwin Chen told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“And just to be clear: We want the EPA to hear from as many public supporters of strong ozone safeguards as possible,” Chen added. “This is something we do quite openly; it makes use of a comment period established by law almost 70 years ago.’’
The EPA opted not to comment, but pointed TheDCNF to a recent blog post rejecting claims the agency improperly lobbied to build support for the Waters of the United States rule. EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia wrote that “EPA has used social media to educate people about the importance of streams and wetlands and the importance of clarifying protection under the Clean Water Act.”
“None of the social media activity ever asked for or solicited public comment on the rule or provided a link to the official docket for public comment,” Purchia wrote in the blog post.
“The public outreach effort to increase awareness and support of EPA’s proposed Clean Water Rule was also entirely legal under the Anti-Lobbying Act,” Purchia added. “This act does not prohibit agencies from seeking input from the public on a rulemaking or restrict the agencies from educating or informing the public on a rulemaking under development.”
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