Junk analysis

Tue Mar. 22, 2005 2:37 PM EST

The Washington Post reported this morning that the EPA chose to ignore a scientific study showing that stricter controls on mercury power plant emissions could potentially save $5 billion a year in health costs—over 100 times more than the EPA's own estimation. And yet:

Top agency officials ordered the finding stripped from public documents, said a staff member who helped develop the rule. Acknowledging the Harvard study would have forced the agency to consider more stringent controls, said environmentalists, and the study's author.

When asked why the agency had not included the report, one of the EPA's chief economists claimed it was submitted too late to be factored in and that crucial elements of the analysis were flawed. Yet interviews and documents show that the EPA had been aware of the study since August, and had received its results by the January 3rd deadline.

Prepared by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, the report was commissioned and paid for by the EPA, co-authored by an EPA scientist and peer-reviewed two other EPA scientists. As the Post notes, the Harvard group's expertise has been widely cited by the Bush Administration before, a fact which caused the Harvard Center's Director, James Hammitt to question why it went ignored this time around:

"I didn't think that was terribly fair," Hammit said. "Now here we are doing the same kind of analysis and it comes out in a more environmentally protective direction than EPA is, and they ignore it. There is an irony in that."

The report, which also details new evidence that mercury causes heart attacks in adults, is not the first report to criticize the EPA's new mercury rule. An internal investigation by the EPA discovered major flaws in the EPA's plan and found that the agency had issued orders to disregard analysis that would have suggested more stringent emissions controls were needed. And a report by the Government Accountability Office, as detailed here by Chris Mooney, illustrates how the EPA rigged its economic analysis to favor its preferred cap and trade solution to mercury.

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