EPA overturning of fuel economy increases requires review, agency watchdog says


Flooded Car

Flooded Car

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The EPA's Science Advisory Board, tasked with agency oversight, is taking issue with at least three of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's signature decisions.

First, according to a Bloomberg report, is Pruitt's decision to freeze fuel economy standards and eliminate increases that had been approved during the Obama Administration.

Second, the Clean Power Plan, which required that coal-burning power plants add carbon capture and sequestration technology. (In response utilities replaced or converted many coal plants to cleaner natural gas.)

Third, according to Bloomberg and an L.A. Times report, was a Pruitt ruling that the EPA did not have authority to regulate heavy-duty "glider" trucks—essentially new trucks that use old engines to get around emissions rules. The agency decided they did not qualify as new trucks, and so shouldn't be subject to new emissions requirements.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt [photo from 2014]

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt [photo from 2014]

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The Science Advisory Board is a panel of outside researchers and experts assigned to review the quality of the technical information that the EPA relies on and to examine its research programs. Pruitt tried to reform the board by implementing a new rule that no researchers could be on the board who had accepted research grants from the Agency. Critics worried that the move would make the Agency more industry friendly by eliminating academics from the board.

Yet the board weighed in with pointed language on these three policy decisions and more. A working group of the science advisory board recommended that the full 44-member board review five of the EPA's recent decisions.

DON'T MISS: Pruitt's EPA decision: 38-page intention vs 1,217 pages of analysis

On the glider truck rule, in particular, the Board took issue with a study that Pruitt's EPA cited in overturning the rule. The study was funded primarily by one of the largest manufacturers of glider trucks, had no emissions scientists involved, and did not make reference to any health concerns, the board said. Tennessee Technological University, where the study was conducted, has withdrawn the study and asked the EPA not to rely on it. The EPA's own study concluded that the trucks emit 50 times as much particulate matter as new trucks and 40 times more smog forming nitrogen oxides.

"This proposed rule is based on claims and assumptions about glider vehicles, emissions, and cost that could be assessed via a rigorous technical analysis, but it appears that the EPA has not attempted to undertake relevant analyses," the working group said. "Furthermore, there is little mention of effects on public health in the proposed rule."

READ THIS: California and 16 states sue EPA over emissions rules

When it comes to fuel economy standards, which involve the EPA because the overlap with emissions of carbon-dioxide, the working group noted that the EPA had relied on 1,000 pages of scientific evidence when it decided to leave the rules in place in the final days of the Obama Administration, and said the decision to reverse course was based on much thinner evidence. The group noted in a memo that the agency did not identify or account for the change's potential effect on greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, or public health or safety. "These would seem to be logical and necessary areas for scientific and technical assessment," the memo said.

Automakers also asked the EPA to review the rule-change in a meeting in Washington earlier this month.

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