January 13, 2012
Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov (202) 224-9797
Katie Brown Katie_Brown@epw.senate.gov (202) 224-2160
Inhofe, Vitter: GAO Report Shows that Flawed Scientific Process at EPA Continues
Washington, D.C. - Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Senator David Vitter (R-La.) today said that a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) entitled "Challenges Remain with EPA's Integrated Risk Information System Program" (IRIS), confirms that EPA's IRIS program is flawed and that the agency is not basing its decisions on the best available science.
In the vein of previous GAO studies which described the IRIS database as "at serious risk of becoming obsolete," this most recent report highlights "both long-standing and new challenges" EPA faces in implementing the IRIS program, showing that the agency has continuously failed to address major flaws in a crucial element of its decision-making process.
Senator Inhofe: "EPA itself claims that IRIS assessments are the 'scientific foundation for decisions' - well, this GAO report reveals that the very foundation upon which EPA is building its job-killing regulatory agenda is fundamentally flawed. While the report acknowledges that EPA has taken some steps to reform the IRIS assessment process, it is clear that they have not done enough to ensure that the agency is utilizing the best available science or conducting its reviews along the highest standards. The problems identified in this GAO report are not unprecedented: in September, GAO found that EPA short-circuited record-keeping and scientific peer review procedures leading up to its endangerment finding; and, later it became clear that EPA was also cutting corners while crafting the Utility MACT rule. Today's report is further evidence that EPA is operating under a flawed scientific process in order to enact an agenda that destroys jobs, causes electricity rates to 'skyrocket,' and weakens our economy."
Senator Vitter: "This is unfortunately part of a growing pattern of putting ideology ahead of sound science, even when making decisions that have serious consequences far beyond Washington. EPA regulations have the power to kill jobs and stifle economic growth, and it's outrageous to see bureaucrats at the EPA continuing to form regulations based on IRIS assessments that we've known for a long time to be flawed. With so many jobs on the line every time a new regulation is enacted, we can't afford for EPA to persist in using anything but the highest-quality scientific data. This GAO report confirms, as Senator Inhofe and I have said for months, that EPA has shown a dangerous willingness to disregard scientific evidence when it contradicts the agency's political ends."
EPA regards IRIS assessments as "critical" and "a scientific foundation for decisions" - and according to GAO, IRIS assessments support "decisions, policies, and regulations under such key statues as the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Clean Water Act, as well as for setting Superfund cleanup standards of hazardous waste sites." While the GAO report acknowledges that EPA has taken some steps to address long-standing concerns, the report is clear that the agency is still working under a flawed IRIS process.
In the wake of a 2011 National Academy of Science (NAS) report which seriously called EPA's IRIS process into question, Senators Inhofe and Vitter sent an oversight letter both to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development Dr. Paul Anastas. These letters outlined in detail the deficiencies in EPA's process highlighted by NAS - including EPA's inability to provide information regarding study selection criteria, which led to over a decade of errors, the agency's inconsistent methods of evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of its studies, and its lack of a clear framework for evaluating the weight of evidence - and asked EPA to address these concerns.
EPA's ongoing struggle to repair its broken IRIS process is further complicated by the recent announcement that Dr. Anastas is stepping down from his position spearheading EPA's IRIS reform effort. This decision comes just over two months after Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) Assistant Administrator Steve Owens announced his resignation.
Senators Inhofe and Vitter have been waiting on responses from Administrator Jackson since last June to multiple questions related to EPA's scientific methods and integrity.