Yesterday, I listened in on an EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) teleconference call regarding a possible SAB review of the science underlying the agency’s proposed Carbon Pollution Standard, and what I heard was shocking.
Simply put, EPA misled the SAB, in order to avoid a potentially embarrassing review. By my count, EPA told the SAB three whoppers about the Carbon Pollution Standard. On the basis of this duplicity, the SAB declined to conduct a review of the regulation’s technical feasibility, one that surely would have exposed the rule’s untenable assumptions.
Here’s the back story: SAB was created by the 1978 Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act. Under the act, EPA is required to make available to the SAB its proposed regulations for review. SAB may then advise the administrator on the adequacy of the scientific and technical basis of the proposed action.
In September 2013, EPA issued a pre-publication version of the Carbon Pollution Standard. The regulation requires that all new coal-fired power plants install carbon capture and sequestration technology to control greenhouse gas emissions. Pursuant to its legal mandate, the SAB delegated to a Work Group the task of performing a preliminary review, on which basis the group would make a recommendation to the full SAB whether or not to conduct a more comprehensive review. On November 12, 2013, the Work Group recommended that the full SAB review “the science supporting” the Carbon Pollution Standard. Directly below, I’ve pasted the Work Group’s conclusion (formatting added):
The Work Group finds that the scientific and technical basis for carbon storage provisions is new science and the rulemaking would benefit from additional review. The specific technical and scientific matters that can be examined as part of the discussion include the scientific basis to develop separate standards for new gas-fired and coal-fired units, carbon capture and storage as a Best System of Emission Reductions for coal-fired plants and underlying scientific assumptions around carbon pollution emissions technological controls.
During yesterday’s teleconference, the full SAB considered whether to further review the Carbon Pollution Standard. And a key determinant of the SAB’s decision was the Work Group’s recommendation. Yet between November 12th and yesterday, the Work Group changed its recommendation 180 degrees. Before, the group had recommended a review; now, it advised that the SAB decline to review the Carbon Pollution Standard.
What happened? According to the Work Group, it was persuaded to change its mind by EPA during a December 17 “fact finding teleconference.” To be precise, here’s what EPA claimed, as interpreted by the Work Group in its recommendation:
- “EPA has made a policy decision that this action only applies to carbon emissions and the capture of carbon emissions, and thus does not directly address carbon sequestration.”
- “EPA staff explained that the agency’s consideration of feasibility and commercially availability of CCS provisions would be binding only on coal-fired EGUs and were based on three examples of implementing partial CCS.”
- “They [EPA staff] state that the agency’s considerations meet the statutory requirements to determine if technologies will be available for the regulated community at the time of construction”
In fact, the SAB was duped. On the truthiness spectrum, EPA’s claims (on which basis the SAB Work Group rendered its advice) range from lies of omission to bald face untruths. Below, I address each one in turn.