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Are There “Serious Flaws” in the EPA’s Bid to Regulate Greenhouse Gases?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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epa-headquartersDid the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency err when it found in 2009 that greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, endanger public health? Based on a new report from the agency’s Inspector General, climate change denier and U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., would like you to think so, trumpeting in a press release headline that the “EPA IG finds serious flaws in centerpiece of Obama global warming agenda.”

Here’s what the inspector general actually wrote (pdf) in typical dry, bureaucratic prose: “EPA met statutory requirements for rulemaking and generally followed requirements and guidance related to ensuring the quality of the supporting technical information.”

The “serious flaws” that Inhofe points to? EPA relied on the judgment of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. National Research Council to determine that greenhouse gases endanger public health (because they cause climate change)—though the inspector general had no problem with this approach, simply arguing that a “more rigorous” peer review should have been undertaken. And EPA included one of its own employees on a panel of 12 federal climate change scientists who reviewed a document supporting the endangerment finding. The agency also failed to make public the findings of that panel and EPA’s own response to them.

The report addresses an April 7, 2010, Inhofe request to review the greenhouse gas finding process and determine whether it followed appropriate procedures. EPA largely did, except that the inspector general wrote that its technical documents for the process constituted a “highly influential scientific assessment,” which requires adherence to specific guidelines on peer review per the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. For its part, the OMB wrote that EPA did its job correctly, as noted in this letter.

Largely, Inhofe seems to question whether the EPA should have relied on the IPCC, whose reports have been called into question by various critics, brought to the fore by so-called Climategate emails. Of course, EPA also relied on the scientific conclusions of one of the most pre-eminent U.S. science organizations—the NRC. Nevertheless, Inhofe plans to call for hearings into the matter now that the inspector general’s report is out.

Setting aside all the bureaucratic language and hyperbole, the report is essentially another loss for those who would like to deny EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases (something it has said it will not do before 2012). In short, EPA can continue to move forward to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, when the agency finally gets around to it.

David Biello About the Author: David Biello is the associate editor for environment and energy at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @dbiello.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Bonzo666 6:11 pm 09/28/2011

    And Propaganda Amerikan Jumps to preserve the Scam.
    Nothing new there.

    Link to this
  2. 2. JamesG 7:11 pm 09/28/2011

    Yours is simply a typically offensive, nasty crack of the anti-science right wing which scoffs at any scientific conclusion or even data which you don’t wish to face.

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  3. 3. Aiser 10:29 pm 09/28/2011

    @JamesG Ahhhhh the old “you are an anti science right-winger” propaganda garbage. Left-wing crack pots like yourself does not seem to realize that increases in science investments ( not spending ) in this country is does by the ole so scary right-wingers. While you left-wingers instead defund science for failed worthless social programs. Neil Degrasse Tyson explained it best here

    The EPA even failed its own congressional audit The DOE also failed its own audit as well.

    If anyone is scoffing at any data then its liberals like you.

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  4. 4. JohnSullivan 10:38 pm 09/28/2011

    Scientific American leaves out one “inconvenient truth” in this article. The reason the EPA is being cited is because they treated the Carbon Rule as a “cheap” rule, not analyzing the cost on the American economy.

    This ruling charges the EPA intentionally mis-classifying the rule as “cheap” while the EPA itself admitted it will cost 21 Billion dollars.

    The inspector said the EPA needs to re-examine the rule, with economic damage factored in this time. Scientific American would like you not to know this fact.

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  5. 5. Dredd 10:33 am 09/29/2011

    The corrupting influence of politics makes it a slower go, thereby intensifying the problem, as well as increasing the loss of health.

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  6. 6. Shoshin 10:58 am 09/29/2011

    CO2 is a dangerous toxic hideous substance that must be controlled. The following is a list of all the people killed by CO2 poisoning in the past 1000 years:

    etc. etc.

    The EPA’s putsch to control CO2 is nothing more than an eco-jihadist dream of sending us all back to the Neolithic (except for the eco-elite of course; they still get jets, electricity anc eco-tours of far off countries)..

    The EPA is way out of it’s mandate on this one and has evolved into a politically driven machine.

    Science means nothing to the EPA.

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  7. 7. pokerplyer 1:25 pm 09/29/2011

    This guy Biello is an idiot. He starts off his opinion piece calling someone the stupid and prejudical term denier for not agreeing with his opinion.

    Yes the EPA relied on the IPCC AR4 and its conclusions, and those conclusions have subsequently been found to be greatly flawed by many scientists and engineers studying the issue.

    The more you study the details of the science, the more you find that the basis of the IPCC conclusions were deeply flawed. I do not argue that the basic concept that more CO2 will have some impact on the atmospheric temperature. I do however strongly disagree with both the conclusions of the rate of change and the statements that a warmer world is necessarily worse for humanity over the long term.

    1. Have you read ANY evidence that the climate models that the IPCC have relied upon for these longer term predictions have been able to accurately predict similar regional conditions in the nearer term? I have not. They have been no better that random guesses from what I have read. If there is a climate model better than I believe I am open to change my perspective. Did you know that not a single GCM has been validated like every other software model is validated?

    2. Even these models only point out general conditions that the models show might happen, but I do not see any evidence of a net harm to humanity or the United States in particular. What would lead a reasonable person to believe that the change (if it happens as you describe) is bad for humanity or that actions taken today would impact the perceived problem in a positive way?

    If you get into the details of the science, you will find that science does not really understand either of these issues to a extent necessary to implement other than what are called NO REGRETS policies. These are actions that make sense regardless and what the EPA is doing does not make sense.

    FYI–I am not anti science as I am an engineer and a scientist. I believe there are far more who have studied the science who think the IPCC report is deeply flawed than who currently accept its conclusions.

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  8. 8. sault 1:47 pm 09/29/2011

    Re: JohnSullivan,

    The EPA’s endangerment finding and its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions stems from provisions in the Clean Air Act mandating that the EPA can only take science into account when making decisions, NOT Economics. If this weren’t the case, entrenched interests (polluters) could make all sorts of false claims to delay action in cleaning up our act, much like they are doing today. The Clean Air Act specifically forbade basing decisions on economic concerns. This is also a point of contention for Obama delaying the implementation of updated ozone standards as his reasoning, if you can call it that, was clearly based in economic terms.

    Regardless, it sounds like you believe climate change will cost our economy nothing while ALL the evidence points to it taking a significant chunk out of our GDP already with bigger bites to follow as the man-made heating increases. I mean, if you pointed me to a peer-reviewed paper that could convince me otherwise, I’d look at it, but considering the fact that the deniers have had to bypass the peer-review process (because their “ideas” have no merit), you’ll probably just point me towards some blog the fossil fuel companies pay to spew their misinformation out to the public.

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  9. 9. sault 2:00 pm 09/29/2011

    Re: pokey,

    Aren’t you doing the same thing starting off your opinion piece with an insult? Hello…pot to kettle…

    As for your #1 question, here you go:

    As for # 2, do you believe increased storm intensity, floods in wet places, droughts in dry places, eventual decreased glacier flow and storage, changing season start and end dates, water scarcity, food scarcity, regional destabilization (like Somalia, but in multiple countries), vanishing arctic ice pack, rising seas displacing millions of people and disintegrating permafrost are GOOD things? Wow, I guess you HAVE to believe such inane things to maintain your Denier cred, no?

    Look, we need to get off of fossil fuels eventually. They’re running out and they poison us while we use them. Our oil addiction funds unfriendly governments around the world. CO2 traps heat and we’ve increased it’s concentration by 40% already. I’ll be the first to admit that neither I, nor ALL the world’s climatologists, know EXACTLY what the impacts of man-made climate change will be, but we have a very good idea stemming from the historical evidence, what’s happening right now and what the models tell us. You might think that switching to a clean, renewable economy will bankrupt us all, but you have to ask yourself, who is feeding you this information? Is it scientists and reputable economic forecasts, or is it dirty energy companies (through their front groups and paid misinformers) that are trying to recreate the success in delaying public action the tobacco companies had?

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  10. 10. pokerplyer 2:37 pm 09/29/2011


    As usual, you cite an article from one of the most biased sites on the web Skeptical Science. What type of web site deletes posts that disagree with their position and refuses to allow follow on posts from authors that point out that what they have written is incorrect.

    Now to specifics. The link you posted shows GLOBAL information and provides absolutely no information to demonstrate that the models can make reliable predictions about regional weather. They are simply not able to do so with any reasonable degree of accuracy.

    So we now know that my point # 1 was accurate

    Regarding point #2

    You have highlighted a number of your fears, but you have no evidence to support those fears. The climate models can not accurately predict any changes at a regional level as a function of CO2, and you have no evidence that a warmer world would be worse for humanity. Yes, there will be storms in the future and bad weather-there always has been. Yes, humans need to construct proper infrastructure to protect society from bad weather-as we always have, but have not always done well.

    There is no reliable evidence to show that CO2 is harmful to Americans. If you are willing I am willing to wager real money with you that you can not find a GCM today that will reliably demonstrate that the US will be harmed by CO2. A reliable model would be one that has demonstrated that it has accurately predicted shorter term weather events as a function of CO2 in the US.

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  11. 11. Durazac 2:50 pm 09/29/2011

    Mr. Biello may be correct, unfortunately when it’s stated as an insult to everyone that does not agree, then not only does it increase the distrust people have in scientists (not science as stated in the article and is politically used by scientists as a general insult: like calling someone racist for not liking the President), but it shuts down the listeners as well.

    As a conservative republican and atheist, I find that the people Mr. Biello thinks are scientifically illiterate, are quite capable of understanding science and it’s implications if explained to them by someone who isn’t casting aspersions at the same time.

    As I have said to many a scientist or instructor when I work with them, “you may be great at science, but you are god awful at business and politics”

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  12. 12. bigbopper 3:19 pm 09/29/2011

    @shoshin: Explaining this to you is probably a waste of time, but first of all many people have died of CO2 poisoning by entering confined spaces such as basements and silos where CO2 had replaced oxygen. But that’s beside the point. As you no doubt know, the risks to humans from increased atmospheric CO2 are not due to CO2 poisoning, but rather from the various effects on climate, weather, and biosphere. Chief among them: 1) weather-related events such as severe storms, droughts, floods, etc which are forecasted to become more frequent and severe as the earth heats up; 2) famine secondary to drought; 3) proliferation of disease-carrying pests as climate change favors them; 4) political and social unrest leading to armed conflict.

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  13. 13. bigbopper 3:23 pm 09/29/2011

    @pokerplyer: forgive me for being sceptical, but what exactly are your scientific credentials that would lead me to believe that your in-depth analysis of the science behind climate change has exposed flaws which have somehow escaped the notice of numerous professional scientific organizations including the National Academy of Sciences?

    Link to this
  14. 14. seannelson1969 4:03 pm 09/29/2011

    shoshin please scientifically prove your point that no one has ever died from co2 poisoning by tieing a bag over your head

    Link to this
  15. 15. pokerplyer 4:18 pm 09/29/2011

    Sault–Why do you think those that developed the climate models will not allow them to be independently validated?

    In your mind is there any valid reason why these models accuracy has not been measured againest actual weather events? If the models are reasonably accurate to show what will happen 40 years from now in the US, shouldn’t they be a bit more accurate to describe what will happen in the near term? Apparently not so much

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  16. 16. pokerplyer 4:48 pm 09/29/2011


    I would not agree that this issue has escaped the notice of the National Academy of Sciences. I do agree that they have largely supported the IPCC summary in the past, but that position seems to be lessening. Here is an article recently published by the National Academy of Sciences showing how the peer review process became unreliable on the topic of climate change.

    Regarding my background- I have 2 masters in aerospace engineering and economics and I am employed in the development of advanced radar imaging systems. If you doubt that scientists and engineers who have studied the issue agree with what I am writing, I suggest you visit

    Take a look and the number and type of people exchanging data there. You will learn a great deal. No this was not my field of study in school, but the science is not that tough folks to get caught up on pretty quickly. What you find when you do is we have a lot to learn.

    I am not some oil industry type and am not a tea party fanatic. I am independent politically, and would support actions if the science was valid, but it isn’t

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  17. 17. bigbopper 6:14 pm 09/29/2011

    @pokerplyer: the very fact that you believe the accuracy of climate model forecasts should be checked by comparison with weather events shows your complete ignorance of the topic. Climate modelling and weather forecasting are completely different enterprises. I recommend you read a college-level textbook on climatology or atmospheric physics before you comment any further on this topic. You might actually learn something.

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  18. 18. bruderly 6:53 pm 09/29/2011

    Claims of widespread economic disaster caused by aggressive federal action to force reductions in greenhouse gas emissions have no basis in fact; they are merely opinions. Yes short-term investment will be required to clean-up or replace dirty activities. But this investment will create prosperity; short-term impacts on profits will be offset by job creation, profits and benefits created by cleaner, more efficient replacement activities.

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  19. 19. deike 7:44 am 09/30/2011

    IMHO, it is exceedingly wise for Senator Inhofe to investigate the economic implications of the various provisions of the EPA’s ruling on CO2.

    While he is at it, he might also consider the fact that while the US debates the reality of climate change, the rest of the world is using this opportunity to upgrade their industries and infrastructure to be more energy efficient and to include more renewable energy sources.

    The question for Senator Inhofe: what will the American economy look like when we are paying $400 a barrel to import oil and the rest of the world is running on relatively cheap wind, solar and biomass?

    Link to this
  20. 20. pokerplyer 9:54 am 09/30/2011

    bigpopper- LOL Yes I realize the many differences between climate models and weather models. Did you know that almost all of the current climate models have a weather model at their core?

    The facts regarding the current climate models is quite revealing if you care to examine the details.

    It is climate models that have been used to predict things like more or less rainfall around areas of the globe. It is the predictions of these climate models that there would be more severe and more frequent storms. The climate models used have not been vaildated for accuracy by the means that any other computer model is validated-testing to compare the results of the model to real world conditions.

    Please study the issue before blinding believing the propaganda

    Link to this
  21. 21. bigbopper 11:08 am 09/30/2011

    @pokerplyer: to say that climate models have weather models “at their core” is incorrect. The equations and constraints used in the climate models are not identical to those used in weather models. There are many factors relevant to climate which can be ignored in weather models, which is one reason why successful weather models were developed much sooner than successful climate models.

    It is also not true that there is no way to assess the validity of climate model predictions. If you want to learn more about this topic, you can easily access any of a number of excellent college-level texts on atmospheric physics and climatology. I suggest you do this before making any more sweeping false statements about climate science.

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  22. 22. Dredd 11:59 am 09/30/2011


    Thank you for presenting the smugness of the deniers as evidence.

    A mock trial is taking place in London, before the Supreme Court of Britain, to determine if ecocide should be treated the same as genocide.

    Trials would take place in the same international court that prosecuted men for genocide.

    I don’t think smugness is a valid defense.

    Link to this
  23. 23. pokerplyer 12:06 pm 09/30/2011


    Sorry, but you write things that are factually wrong about climate models development and I have provided links to try to educate you. If you do not want to read and learn it is your choice.

    The models used have not been vaildated. You write that they can be. Great, then why has this not been done. Let us get these models independently validated.

    Or better yet, how about you pick whatever climate model you wish and we can set it to the real world environmental conditions of the year 1990 and see how well it is able to predict the conditions in the year 2015-25 years into the models future. How do you think the IPCC’s models will do?

    Want to make a wager?

    Link to this

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