Energy

‘Whitewash Of Patently Illegal Conduct’: Critics Call Bull On EPA Audit

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
  • A 2017 EPA study on glider vehicles was conducted without the knowledge of senior agency staffers, and emails obtained through FOIA suggests the study was improperly conducted. 
  • An internal audit by the EPA Inspector General found no wrongdoing, and determined staffers mostly followed protocol when launching the study. 
  • Critics are denouncing the investigation, accusing the inspector general of glossing over major points of concern.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that staffers did not break protocol regarding a contentious study on glider vehicles, but critics are trashing the audit.

While EPA employees failed to “fully adhere to its delegation of authority,” they ultimately complied with the agency’s standard practices when conducting glider vehicle tests in 2017, according to a report released by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General in late July. The report went on to determine that staffers did not act unethically regarding its correspondence with lobbyists, nor did it maliciously delete emails.

The audit was done in response to several congressional lawmakers who raised concerns about a 2017 EPA study on glider vehicles.

A glider vehicle is a truck that has new body parts, but uses a refurbished engine. Because they make use of a previously-owned powertrain, glider vehicles are substantially cheaper than trucks with brand new engines. Their use, however, has been a point of contention under President Donald Trump’s deregulation agenda.

The Trump administration has sought to rollback a number of regulations affecting the automobile industry, including an Obama-era rule that limits glider truck production.

The repeal appeared all but certain when then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in November 2017 proposed scrapping the rule. However, an EPA study was released around that time that found emissions from glider vehicles, when tested under highway conditions, emitted over 50 times more particulate matter and over 40 times more nitrogen oxide than newer trucks. The report effectively derailed repeal efforts.

“The purpose, of course, was to embarrass and intimidate the Trump EPA into aborting the rollback of the Obama EPA rule,” Steve Milloy, publisher of JunkScience.com, told the Daily Caller News Foundation in June 2018, when lawmakers questioned the legitimacy of the study.

Milloy was the first one to raise ethics questions on the EPA study. Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, he was able to obtain emails between Volvo Group North America lobbyists, who oppose the repeal, and high-ranking agency officials in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the location of the EPA’s emission testing laboratory.

The email correspondence appeared to show improper collusion between EPA officials and lobbyists. Gaps in correspondence also appeared to suggest that emails were intentionally deleted to avoid FOIA release. Despite the study being conducted without the knowledge of senior EPA staff, including then-Administrator Scott Pruitt, a Volvo lobbyist was still somehow able to obtain a copy of the study’s findings.

A report by the DCNF prompted several Republican lawmakers in June 2018 to ask the EPA to investigate the matter. Despite the concerning evidence, the inspector general report released in July found that EPA employees did not act improperly. Besides admitting that staffers did not go through the proper channels of authority when launching the study, the internal audit found that they mostly followed agency protocol.

“I think the EPA AG report was a whitewash of patently illegal conduct by EPA career staff,” Milloy said to the DCNF about the audit. “It’s clear from the emails and other evidence that Volvo colluded with EPA career staff to sabotage the Trump EPA effort to rollback the Obama EPA effort to put glider trucks out of business.”

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United States Environmental Protection Agency logo visible on display screen. Shutterstock

Milloy went on to accuse the new truck industry, including Volvo, of attempting to “cover-up the racket” it has established with career EPA staffers, working to tighten engine regulations in order to make buyers spend more money on newer trucks.

The JunkScience.com publisher wasn’t the only who balked at the investigation’s findings.

“I’m disappointed that the inspector general didn’t fully investigate what went on here — Washington will protect its own but not American workers,” Florida GOP Rep. Bill Posey said to the DCNF. Posey went on to call the 2017 EPA study “bogus” and incapable of passing the “straight face test.”

The Florida lawmaker, along with supporters of the glider vehicle industry, argue that the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era regulations is essential to revitalizing the American workforce and protecting jobs from going overseas. (RELATED: Billionaire Tom Steyer Dumps Nearly $300K Into Facebook Ads Ahead Of Dem Debates)

“At the center of this is forced-loss of thousands of American jobs. In this instance a federal agency rigged the system against American workers in favor of a foreign owned company by arbitrarily creating new regulations in 2016 to basically wipe out an American industry,” Posey said. “It’s shameful.”

TheDCNF’s request for comment to Volvo was not returned.

UPDATE:

After publication of this article, an EPA spokesperson provided the following statement: “As the IG found, EPA was consistent with the law, past practices, and current policies.”

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