This from Breaking Energy:

 “The UK is set to become the first EU member state to transpose the most recent EU directives on accounting and transparency rules in an effort to satisfy growing demands for a European-wide strategy to fight corruption in relation to substantial payments that oil and gas companies are often required to make to government entities by way of signing bonuses, taxes or royalties.”

While governments have taken measures to allegedly “increase transparency” of corporate payments to certain entities, interestingly enough, they run away from making their own dealings more transparent. Take the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an example.

Many major regulations the agency advances under the Clean Air Act rely on nearly 40-year-old studies to determine health benefits today. This decades old research is actually used as justification for the most significant new air regulations introduced and implemented under the Obama Administration. Yet, EPA intentionally refuses to make this data available to the public. More troubling still is the fact that EPA has entered into secret negotiations with extreme environmental law and lobbying firms that force the agency to advance a radical environmental agenda with regulations in areas financially beneficial to these organizations. The practice, known as sue-and-settle, occurs with the full cooperation of the EPA and the Obama Administration.   

With a wink and a nod, environmental activists sue EPA for a failure to act on advancing a regulation and EPA is “forced” to reach a settlement, naturally behind closed doors and with no consideration given to affected parties, most notably the American public. Even more egregious, the environmental groups who brought the lawsuit are reimbursed their legal fees courtesy of – you guessed it – taxpayers. Keep in mind that these groups are funded by the wealthiest Americans and business interests (and also received more than $80 billion in funding from various sources over the last ten years, with over $3 billion  in EPA government grants alone). 

Often deployed by the Obama Administration’s EPA, Senator Vitter made sue-and-settle and the use of secret science an issue when he held up now EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s nomination last year. The sue-and-settle practice was also detailed in a Minority report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, “EPA’s Playbook Unveiled: A Story of Fraud, Deceit, and Secret Science.” To help limit some of the secretive nature of the process, EPA agreed to Senator Vitter’s request to put up on their website all petitions for rulemaking and notices of intent to sue as they are received. Previously, industry was left to guess at when and what environmentalists would sue.

Unfortunately, the agency continues to refuse to make available important data underlying the health studies that underpin the vast majority of the EPA’s benefits claims. It argues that doing so would disclose confidential health information. Interesting because EPA’s position flies in the face of the scientific method, the standard set by researchers to make their methodology available in order to allow their theories to be tested and results repeated and verified. The answer, of course, is to de-identify personal health information that could directly reveal the identity of a specific person, something Senator Vitter pointed out in his ongoing discussions with EPA as technically feasible. EPA was supposed to accept recommendations for how to implement de-identification protocol, but has been slow to do so. The fact that EPA ignores this obvious solution gives one pause when considering that this is the agency responsible for promulgating complex environmental policies. Unfortunately, the Agency has yet to live up to its end of the bargain which may indicate that critical data no longer exists, likely making implausible any claim that EPA’s claimed scientific benefits can be independently replicated. As Senator Vitter has pointed out “relying on data that potentially no longer exists in complete form, or is otherwise of diminished value, actively negates any claim EPA has on its commitment to relying on the highest quality science.”

Such lack of transparency lends itself to cronyism and bad public policy. The transformation of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council (CASAC) highlights this reality. What is supposed to be an objective body that advises EPA on technical scientific matters, specifically setting a new ground level ozone standard, is now filled with scientists that receive significant grants from EPA. Yes, you read that right; 70 percent of the individuals sitting on the current CASAC Ozone Review panel have received EPA grants collectively totaling more than $120 million. What’s worse is that much of this money is for work related to the regulation (ozone NAAQS) that they are supposed to be reviewing objectively. Adding insult to injury, CASAC’s members are peer reviewing their own scientific work, which runs completely contrary to the scientific philosophy of objective peer review.

Is it any surprise then that this panel seems to be placing a rubber stamp on EPA’s politically motivated agenda by recommending a regulation so stringent that most national parks, with no industrial facilities, would not be able to meet? By EPA’s own admission, the result of this process, a proposed ozone NAAQS rule, will likely be the most expensive regulation in history; as much as $100 billion annually.

There is potentially good news on the horizon. In the coming weeks the House is likely to vote on two bills that would boost transparency at EPA. Rep. David Schweikert’s (R-AZ) The Secret Science Reform Act, would bar new EPA regulations unless all of the science and methodology used to justify the rules are made publicly available. The second bill, The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), seeks to end what is a pervasive conflict of interest among the Science Advisory Board’s panelists and would permit public participation in the process by which the Board determines recommendations to EPA.

While both the EU and U.S. governments frequently complain about corporate disclosures, some information must be reasonably protected to guard against competition (note that we still do not know the secret formula for Coca-Cola, and for good reason!). However, for an Administration that came to office promising to be the most transparent in history, this government does everything in its power to avoid public disclosure of information that provides the basis for some of the most expensive and extensive regulations our nation has ever seen.

Brendan Williams

Posted by Brendan Williams

Brendan Williams is the former Executive Vice President of AFPM. To learn more about AFPM, visit AFPM.org.