Reps. Issa and Sensenbrenner issue report on the politics of EPA’s endangerment finding

by Marlo Lewis on October 15, 2009

in Blog

Updated 10/16/09

Today [Oct. 15, 2009], Rep. Darrell Isa (R-CA), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, ranking member of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, released a joint minority staff report titled, The Politics of EPA’s Endangerment Finding.

I’ll say more about the report after reading the 146-page document. Key findings include:

  • EPA prejudged the outcome of its endangerment finding to advance the Obama administration’s policy agenda.
  • EPA’s effort to control greenhouse gas emissions will give the Agency authority over the entire U.S. economy. 
  • EPA did not conduct its own analysis. Instead, the Agency deferred to the judgment of two external literature surveys — the IPCC reports and the U.S. National Assessment of Climate Change. 
  • EPA erected internal barriers to stifle dissent within the Agency.
  • EPA apparently refused to read the thousands of comments submitted in response to the previous administration’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
  • EPA punished and demoted whistleblower/skeptic Alan Carlin and retaliated against the office in which he works.
  • Energy and Environment Czar Carol Browner may have violated the Presidential Records Act during fuel-economy negotiations between EPA, the Department of Energy, the State of California, and the auto industry.

These points seem spot on to me. The report, however, contains details I have not seen elsewhere. As aforesaid, I’ll blog about this later.


Having read the Issa-Sensenbrenner report, I’d like to share a few details.

Non-responsiveness to congressional inquiries

  • In a letter of March 12, 2009, Rep. Issa asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for various information relating to public comment on the Agency’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), such as how many comments EPA received, how many of those were in favor of an endangerment finding, how did the Agency determine which comments were “key” and required a response. Ms. Jackson’s letter of May 18 was completely non-reponsive to these queries. Issa and Sensenbrenner justifiably conclude that EPA may not have read most of the comments on the ANPR. 
  • Jackson’s May 18 letter was also non-responsive to Mr. Issa’s question as to whether EPA had ever before found a pollutant to “endanger human health” solely on the basis of indirect effects on weather and climate, and to his request for a list of precedents on which EPA relied to classify CO2 emissions as a health hazard due to their supposed indirect effects.
  • All her letter says on this matter is: “EPA’s notice of the proposed endangerment finding identifies the precedents the agency relied on its making the proposal.” If so, then why not quote the relevant passage, or cite the pertinent pages? The public health discussion (pp. 18901-18902) in EPA’s endangerment proposal discusses no precedents and lists no previous examples of pollutants deemed health hazards by virtue of their indirect effects.

Bad-mouthing SBA

  • On April 24, 2009, EPA posted an OMB-coordinated inter-agency review of its proposed endangerment finding. The review warned of “serious economic consequences” for small business, noted that EPA had not “undertaken a systematic risk analysis or cost-benefit analysis,” and said that EPA seemed to “stretch the precautionary principle” in making the case for endangerment.
  • Obama officials dismissed these criticisms as irrelevant, claiming the author was “a Bush holdover.” In fact, the so-called holdover was a career civil servant originally hired by the Small Business Administration during the Clinton Administration. Her previous job was as an aid to a Democratic Member of Congress.
  • OMB also disclosed the name of the “Bush holdover,” violating its own protocol designed to protect professional staff from political retaliation. OMB claimed it divulged the analyst’s identity to “correct inaccurate and misleading media reports.” However, the reports simply quoted the OMB document. OMB never clarified what “inaccuracies” its breach of protocol corrected.

Mistreatment of Dr. Alan Carlin

  • Dr. Carlin, a 37-year EPA analyst, wrote a comment critical of the science on which EPA proposed to base its endangerment finding. Al McGartland, director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE), the office in which Carlin works, refused to transmit Carlin’s comment to EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, told Carlin not to discuss the endangerment proceeding with anyone outside of NCEE, ordered Carlin to discontinue all work on climate change, removed him from NCEE’s Climate Workgroup, and cut him from the group’s email list.
  • In addition, McGartland reassigned Carlin to tasks (updating a grants database and an economic incentives report) previously performed by a junior staffer and an outside contractor.
  • McGartland’s behavior appears to have been motivated by fear of reprisal from Agency higher-ups. His email to Carlin of March 17 states: “The Administrator and the administration has [sic] decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision . . . I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office.”

EPA efforts to discredit Dr. Carlin

  • To discredit Carlin’s comment, EPA initially stated that Carlin was “not a scientist” and “not part of the working group dealing with the issue.”
  • However, Carlin holds a degree in physics from the California Institute of Technology, was a member of NCEE’s Climate Workgroup, and is listed as an author of the original (2007) endangerment finding Technical Support Document (TSD).
  • In response to a July 17 letter from Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), EPA confirmed that “Dr. Carlin was one of several members of the NCEE workgroup that reviewed the [2009] draft TSD for EPA’s proposed endangerment finding for greenhouse gases.”

On July 8, 2009, EPA finally included Dr. Carlin’s comment in its endangerment docket — almost one month after the comment period closed. Alan Carlin still has a job — although he no longer works on climate issues. NCEE has not been defunded, despite concerns expressed by Carlin’s colleague John Davidson (and hinted at in McGartland’s March 17 email) that Agency brass could punish NCEE for committing climate heresy.

Public outcry over the treatment of Alan Carlin and the ongoing investigations by Reps. Issa, Sensenbrenner, and Barton have not produced an atmosphere of open and free intellectual discourse at EPA. Nonetheless, the outcry and the investigations can only help deter future acts of retaliation against climate skeptics.

For further discussion of these issues, see my blog post, John Broder’s spin job on Alan Carlin.

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