U.S. watchdog: EPA took shortcut on climate finding

WASHINGTON Wed Sep 28, 2011 2:01pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a shortcut in laying the groundwork to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, a government watchdog said on Wednesday in a report that could fuel Republican efforts to block the agency's new rules on climate.

EPA's Inspector General said in report the agency met requirements making rules on emissions blamed for warming the planet and followed rules to ensure the supporting technical information was qualified.

But it said EPA should have conducted its own peer review of climate science rather than relying on science previously conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council and others.

Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, the minority member of the Senate's environment panel who called for the report, said it showed the EPA's "endangerment finding" on the emissions was inadequate and violated the agency's peer review procedures.

"This report confirms that the endangerment finding, the very foundation of President Obama's job-destroying regulatory agenda, was rushed, biased, and flawed," Inhofe said in a release. Inhofe, a longtime climate skeptic who is writing a book on global warming called "The Hoax," said he was calling for immediate hearings on the EPA issue.

The EPA said on Wednesday it would consider the inspector general's recommendations to revise its Peer Review Handbook and establish requirements for assessing data from other organizations.

But it was adamant the science it relied on, from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, the National Research Council, and the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was sound.

"The report importantly does not question or even address the science used or the conclusions reached -- by the EPA under this and the previous administration -- that greenhouse gas pollution pose a threat to the health and welfare of the American people," an agency source said.

Senator Inhofe said that the EPA relied heavily on the U.N.'s climate science panel to make the finding, a claim rejected by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

The EPA issued the endangerment finding, which said greenhouse gases endanger public health or welfare, in late 2009 after the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 the agency could regulate the emissions under the Clean Air Act. The agency had to conclude the emissions were harmful before regulating them.

Since then the EPA has embarked on rules to reduce the emissions from sources including power plants, oil refineries and vehicles.

Last week the Republican-controlled House passed a bill to block the EPA rules, saying they would cost industry billions of dollars and kill jobs. But the measure faces an uphill battle in the Senate and President Barack Obama has vowed to veto it.

Environmentalists said the report did nothing to question the science.

"Nothing in this report questions the agency's ability to move forward with global warming emissions rules," said Francesca Grifo, the science integrity director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"The inspector general made it clear that EPA followed current guidelines for ensuring that it based its decision on robust scientific analysis."

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio)

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