EPA Concedes: We Can’t Produce All the Data Justifying Clean Air Rules

April 11, 2014 - 5:32 PM

Gina McCarthy

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) –  Seven months after being subpoenaed by Congress, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy conceded that her agency does not have -  and cannot produce - all of the scientific data used for decades to justify numerous rules and regulations under the Clean Air Act.

In a March 7th letter to House Science, Space and Technology Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), McCarthy admitted that EPA cannot produce all of the original data from the 1993 Harvard Six Cities Study (HSC) and the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) 1995 Cancer Prevention Study II, which is currently housed at New York University.

Both studies concluded that fine airborne particles measuring 2.5 micrograms or less (PM2.5) – 1/30th the diameter of a human hair – are killing thousands of Americans every year.

These epidemiological studies are cited by EPA as the scientific foundation for clean air regulations that restrict particulate emissions from vehicles, power plants and factories.

The agency has recently come under fire for exposing volunteers to concentrated levels of particulate matter without informing them of the risks, a practice Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, called “despicable.”

The full committee, which issued its first subpoena in 21 years last August after being stonewalled by the EPA for two years, wanted the raw data from the studies so that their results could be replicated by independent researchers. (See EPA subpoena.pdf)

However, despite “multiple interactions with the third party owners of the research data in an effort to obtain that data,” McCarthy wrote, some of the data subpoenaed by the committee “are not (and were not) in the possession, custody or control of the EPA, nor are they within the authority to obtain data that the agency identified.”

“EPA has not withheld any data in our possession that is responsive to the subpoena,” McCarthy stated. “The EPA acknowledges, however, that the data provided are not sufficient in themselves to replicate the analyses in the epidemiological studies, nor would they allow for the one to one mapping of each pollutant and ecological variable to each subject.” (See EPA letter to Smith March 7 2014 (1).pdf)

CNSNews.com asked EPA whether the agency had turned over any data from the Harvard Six Cities and American Cancer Society studies in response to the subpoena.

“EPA provided to the Committee all the data that was in the possession of the agency or within the agency's authority to obtain under the Shelby Amendment,” which requires that results of federally-funded studies be made available to the public, an agency spokeswoman responded. “As such, the agency has now in good faith obtained and provided to the Committee all the requested research data subject to the Shelby Amendment and covered by the subpoena.”

A committee staff member confirmed to CNSNews.com that “EPA gave us what they have of both studies, which is a significant amount of data, but not sufficient" to allow independent reproduction or verification of results.

EPA logo

"We’re at a point where EPA has conceded that they don’t have in their possession the data necessary to fully comply, and in some cases, never did possess the data,” he added.

The subpoena was issued as the EPA moves to finalize strict new regulations that could place 90 percent of the U.S. population in non-attainment areas and impose an additional $90 billion annual burden on the U.S. economy.

However, two newer studies cast doubts on the original research.

Stanley Young and Jessie Xia of the National Institute of Statistical Sciences published a paper last year questioning the EPA’s reliance on the Harvard and Cancer Society studies, both of which found that breathing fine particulate matter (PM2.5) resulted in increased mortality.

“There is no significant association of PM2.5 with longevity in the west of the United States,”Young and Xia  noted, adding that “our findings call into question the claim made by the original researchers.” (See young080113.pdf)

Another recent study by Johns Hopkins-trained biostatistician Steve Milloy that attempted to duplicate EPA’s findings also found “no correlation between changes in ambient PM2.5 mortality” and any cause of death in California between 2007 and 2010.

“Virtually every regulation proposed by the Obama administration has been justified by nontransparent data and unverifiable claims,” committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in February, denouncing what he called EPA’s “secret science.”

“The American people foot the bill for EPA’s costly regulations, and they have a right to see the underlying science. Costly environmental regulations should be based on publicly available data so that independent scientists can verify the EPA’s claims.”

Smith and Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) have introduced the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014, which would prohibit EPA from “proposing, finalizing or disseminating regulations based upon scientific information that is not publically available in a manner sufficient for independent scientific analysis.”

HR 4012, which would amend the Environmental Research, Development and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978, states that “the Administrator shall not propose, finalize, or disseminate a covered action unless all scientific and technical information relied on to support such covered action is (A) specifically identified; and (B) publicly available in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.”

At a February 11th hearing before the Subcommittee on Environment, Raymond Keating, chief economist at the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, testified in favor of the bill. (HHRG-113-SY18-WState-RKeating-20140211.pdf)

“The  U.S. has made enormous progress in cleaning the air over the last 40 years, so much so that we now are talking about reducing very small increments of pollution. Achieving those tiny reductions will no doubt be very costly—as EPA itself admitted when it released its cost analysis for ozone in 2010. The question is: will they be worth it?" Keating asked.

“We won’t know that unless we have the scientific data in front of us, unless scientists from all over the country can attempt to replicate it and determine its validity. Without that, EPA is hiding the ball, and imposing costs without truly knowing what the benefits are.”

Congress is expected to consider the bill sometime this summer.