EPA Uses Junk Science to Wage War on Coal -by Duggan Flanakin

January 19, 2015

The EPA routinely employs junk science and public scare tactics to justify ever more draconian and costly restrictions on coal-fired power plants. Wild exaggerations of economic and health benefits are often premised upon internal data review analyses which even Congress can’t access.

Such misleading and downright deceptive practices openly violate the Information Quality Act, Executive Order 12688, and related Office of Management and Budget guidelines requiring that regulatory agencies provide for full, independent, peer review of all “influential scientific information.” 

Even the U.S. Government Accounting Office has found that the EPA doesn’t always  provide reports that “enable a third party to understand how the agency arrives at its conclusions.” Stretching its definition of “pollution” under the Clean Air Act to bolster its position on climate change, the EPA acts as the central implementing agency for the Obama Administration’s “Clean Power Plan.” Yet in originally linking CO2, a trace greenhouse gas, to dangerous global warming, the EPA disregarded its own internal research report authored at the time. 

Authored by my friend Alan Carlin, it concluded: “given the downward trend in temperatures since 1998 (which some think will continue until at least 2030), there is no particular reason to rush into decisions based upon a scientific hypothesis that does not appear to explain most of the available data.”

So far, Carlin is right. Satellite records reveal that global mean temperatures have been flat over the past 18 years and counting, despite increasing atmospheric CO2 levels, and prominent scientists do, in fact, predict a prolonged cooling period.

The EPA’s requirements now mandate that every state cut its CO2 emissions by a national average of 30% over 15 years from levels of 25 years earlier. To justify this they have devised a “social cost of carbon” which supposedly monetizes damage linked to CO2 based upon climate and other risks. In doing so it first arbitrarily pegged this cost at $22 per ton of emissions, and then raised it to $36 per ton. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that these new EPA rules will shut down hundreds of generators, add $289 billion in consumer electricity costs, and lower household disposable incomes by $586 billion by 2030. 

It also projects that the regulations will cost the U.S. economy 2.3 million jobs and half a trillion in lost GDP over the next 10 years. And the benefits? According to EPA’s own estimate, the policies will prevent less than two-hundredths of a degree Celsius of warming by the end of this century.

A report authored by Dr. Kathleen Harnett-White, a Texas Public Policy Foundation senior fellow, discusses another big EPA fossil energy attack strategy — one that projects hugely inflated health benefits to be gained by reducing ambient levels of six “criteria pollutants.”

Their primary emphasis is upon “fine particulate matter” (PM 2.5) which they use to justify almost all of their many new air quality regulations.

Dr. White observes that the agency does this by projecting highly exaggerated dollar valuations of the number of lives that will be saved from premature deaths at lowest pollution concentrations based upon two cherry-picked studies. In doing so, they ignore or give mere lip service, to hundreds of reputable contradictory studies.

The favored studies emphasize theoretical intricately manipulated statistical associations rather than observational data-driven causal connections between pollutant levels and adverse health effects. And while declaring complete certainty and peer review approval, a closer look reveals a different picture. 

Those peer reviewers are typically either EPA employees, scientists who authored the preferred studies, or people employed by the same institution paid by the EPA to conduct the research. 

The EPA currently proposes to cut the existing ozone limit of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to a range between 70 to 65 ppb, and is considering standards as low as 60 ppb. They argue that a 65 ppb standard will yield between $21.2 billion and $42.1 billion in health benefits over 10 years compared with $16.5 billion in economic losses.

Here again such estimates are highly misleading because most of the health benefits they cite would come from reductions of particulate matter which is already regulated by the EPA, not from less ozone. Also consider that the agency estimated that this same limit they previously proposed and later withdrew in 2011 would cost businesses $90 billion a year.

President Obama backed off from supporting the plan prior to his re-election bid. His stated reason for doing so was to “underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty.”

But of course that was then and this is now. Given regulatory certainty that he won’t have to face another election, any such burden will pass to the shoulders of his successor. Yes, and upon those of all the rest of us also. 

A version of this article appeared at:

About the Author: Duggan Flanakin
Duggan Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. A former Senior Fellow with both the Texas and Arkansas Public Policy Foundations, Mr. Flanakin has a Master's in Public Policy from Regent University. During the years he spent reporting on environmental regulation in Texas and nationwide, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas.

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