Mar 19, 2014 - 1:15pm

The EPA’s Flawed Playbook


Former Senior Vice President, Environment, Technology & Regulatory Affairs

Bloomberg_EPAHQ_800px.png

EPA headquarters
EPA headquarters
Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, DC. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.

Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released a Minority Staff Report entitled “EPA’s Playbook Unveiled: A Story of Fraud, Deceit, and Secret Science.”  The report outlines how at least two officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency manipulated EPA’s decision process in 1997 to establish national standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone.  

The report provides a timeline showing that as EPA officials took control of the 1997 PM2.5 and Ozone NAAQS standard-setting process, they and other EPA personnel developed a “playbook” to finalize new standards without the degree of review, public transparency, and scientific scrutiny that had previously been required. 

For example, (1) the review process was purposefully rushed because EPA agreed to an unusually tight deadline for action through a sue-and-settle agreement with an advocacy group, (2) the scientific studies EPA relied upon were widely criticized as too weak, by themselves, to justify the new PM standard, and (3) the health benefits of the standards were grossly exaggerated.  The now-discredited EPA official himself is portrayed in the report as actively working to stifle objections to the rule within EPA, from other agencies, and from business groups such as the U.S. Chamber.  The studies used to support the 1997 PM2.5 standard have never been independently reproduced or validated, and EPA has successfully resisted all attempts – including a 2000 Freedom of Information Act request from the U.S. Chamber – to obtain the data underlying the studies upon which EPA based its standards.

At a minimum, the Senate EPW Committee’s report suggests that EPA employed several of the tactics the U.S. Chamber has complained about in recent years – abuse of the sue and settle process, lack of transparency, relying upon cherry-picked scientific data, refusal to disclose underlying data or subject it to data quality requirements, grossly exaggerating claimed health benefits – to ensure that its 1997 PM and Ozone NAAQS standards could quickly be made law. 

This is significant because virtually all air quality rules since then have relied nearly exclusively on asserted PM2.5  health benefits derived from the studies first used in 1997.  The EPW Committee report concludes that the underlying data supporting the two key studies relied on by EPA in 1997 is not capable of being reproduced or verified.  It is therefore essential that new studies be conducted to definitively establish that the PM2.5 standard can actually deliver the benefits it promises. Otherwise, it is difficult for the public and the business community to put their trust in a process that appears to have been manipulated to ensure a particular regulatory outcome.  

About the Author

About the Author

Former Senior Vice President, Environment, Technology & Regulatory Affairs

Kovacs is the former Senior Vice President for the Environment, Technology & Regulatory Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.