SM: CRE Regulatory Action of the Week
CRE Data Quality Petition to EPA on Global Climate Change
Ms. Margaret N. Schneider, Acting Chief Information Officer
RE: Petition Pursuant to OMB Circular A-130, to:
Dear Ms. Schneider:
CRE’s Efforts to Improve EPA Data Quality
Over the last year or so, CRE has corresponded several times with senior EPA officials, urging EPA to take several actions to improve the quality of data and information that EPA disseminates to the public.
The EPA "Global Warming" Website has been a major focus of our concerns. Numerous statements on that Website are presented without appropriate context concerning the scientific uncertainties pertaining to global climate change and thus lead the reader to believe that we know as scientific fact that:
On May 26, 2000, CRE petitioned Administrator Carol Browner pursuant to OMB Circular A-1302, to modify EPA’s Global Warming Website to correct certain misleading or factually incorrect information on the site.
CRE Commends EPA for Progress on Data Quality, But More Needs to Be Done
CRE commends EPA for its efforts to improve Data Quality across the agency. In particular, we commend EPA for acting in response to CRE’s May 26, 2000 petition to improve EPA’s Global Warming Website by:
However, various types of information products that EPA disseminates to the public, including the Federal Register notice discussed below, still need to be corrected and improved to satisfy Data Quality standards mandated by statute and by OMB.
II. EPA’s April 6, 2001 Federal Register Notice Soliciting Grant Applications
On April 6, 2001, EPA published a Federal Register notice to solicit applications from State agencies to receive Federal grant funds to address certain greenhouse gas-related matters. (State Activities to Quantify and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Assistance Competition; 66 Federal Register 18245 et seq.; copy attached.)
The notice says, in relevant part:
(66 Fed. Reg. 18246, 1st col.; emphasis added.)
The EPA notice cites no scientific report or factual evidence as the basis for EPA’s statements that those alleged "expected" effects of climate change will occur or that they "will . . . affect" State governments. The notice also strongly implies that anthropogenic GHG emissions are in fact the cause of such effects and that "mitigation" (including direct regulation) of such anthropogenic emissions can avoid or mitigate the alleged "expected" adverse effects.
The EPA statements quoted above assert the "expected" effects of climate change with an unwarranted high degree of certainty and specificity. The statements fail to include appropriate, necessary scientific caveats to alert the reader about the considerable scientific uncertainty concerning whether, for example:
III. Examples of Acknowledged Scientific Uncertainties That Preclude EPA From Making Definitive Statements on Effects of Global Climate Change
In CRE’s May 26, 2000 letter to Administrator Browner, we also critiqued statements from the EPA Global Warming Website and other sources that are very similar or virtually identical to statements quoted above from the April 6 notice.
In summary, both EPA and the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have stated explicitly that many significant scientific uncertainties unavoidably apply to projections about future climate change and its potential impacts, particularly at a regional rather than global scale.
CRE’s May 26, 2000 critique set forth several distinct types of scientific uncertainty that EPA and the IPCC expressly acknowledge, concerning:
(See, CRE’s May 26, 2000 letter at pages 12 - 18 and associated Attachments, which cite EPA’s own Global Warming Website and IPCC documents.)
Those uncertainties continue to preclude a scientific conclusion that the effects stated in the April 6 notice "will" or "are expected to" or "are likely to" occur.
As one specific example, we believe EPA’s statement in the April 6 notice, that "Changes in climate are expected to . . . encourage the proliferation and migration of disease-carrying mosquitoes and increase the incidence of infectious diseases such as encephalitis, malaria, and dengue" does not correctly state the prevailing scientific view, particularly with respect to potential effects in the U.S.
On April 2, 2001, four days before EPA published the April 6 notice, the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, issued a report, Under the Weather: Climate, Ecosystems, and Infectious Disease4. The report basically says that while changes in climate and weather may factor into some disease outbreaks, other contributing factors, such as economic development, sanitation, and health services and infrastructure make it difficult to forecast disease outbreaks. The bottom line is that there are too many scientific uncertainties to accurately predict the impact of global warming on the spread of infectious illnesses.
This is essentially the same conclusion that U.S. experts on infectious disease have long maintained. (See, CRE’s May 26, 2000 letter at page 10 and Attachments # 8, 14, 15, and 16.)
IV. CRE Petition for Correction and Improvement Pursuant to OMB Circular A-130
For the reasons stated above, CRE believes that the unqualified statements in the April 6, 2001 Federal Register notice, concerning the certainty of causes and effects of global climate change, fail to comply with OMB Circular A-130.
Accordingly, CRE petitions you as the EPA Chief Information Officer to consider this petition pursuant to OMB Circular A-130. We request you to take two forms of corrective action:
By taking those requested actions, EPA will:
CRE also requests the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this petition and how you will achieve an appropriate and expeditious resolution, pursuant to OMB Circular A-130. Thank you.
Jim J. Tozzi
Attachment: April 6, 2001 Federal Register Notice
1. CRE seeks to improve the Federal regulatory process, for example, by urging Federal agencies to:
2. OMB Circular A-130 implements parts of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. § 3501 et seq.).
Circular A-130 contains numerous policy directives that address the need for development, maintenance, dissemination, and modification of agency public information products and for senior-level management oversight to assure that agencies establish and maintain high quality information systems.
Circular A-130 also establishes as Administration policy that agencies must establish a complaint resolution process and designate a senior official – the agency Chief Information Officer (CIO) – who is responsible for upholding the policies of the Circular and who has authority to correct data errors and to remedy poor data quality.
CRE’s May 26, 2000 petition to Administrator Browner quoted an April 18, 2000 letter from John T. Spotila, then the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB, to Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, in which Mr. Spotila made clear that agency CIOs have an "ombudsman" function and responsibility under Circular A-130 to "consider alleged instances of agency failure to comply with this Circular and recommend or take corrective action as appropriate." (The "ombudsman" section of Circular A-130 is found at § 9.a.4 in the most recent, November 30, 2000 revision of the Circular, and is substantively identical to the previous section 9(a)(10) quoted in Mr. Spotila’s letter.)
3. The uncertainties include data limitations and limitations of the global climate circulation computer models that underlie projections of global climate change and potential associated effects. It is well-recognized, for example, that different leading climate models generate significantly and even dramatically different projections for the same regional geographic areas. It is also well-recognized that it is virtually impossible to accurately predict localized impacts, for example, on individual U.S. States.
4. EPA was a co-sponsor of the report, with several other Federal agencies.
5. We considered whether EPA might remedy the problem by sending CRE a letter saying that EPA did not intend to state or imply that the potential effects listed in the April 6 notice are established facts or are substantially free from uncertainty. However, we believe it important that EPA publish a correction in the Federal Register, both to correct EPA’s public record and to promote transparency in EPA’s responses under Circular A-130 to Data Quality problems.
6. CRE urges EPA, in addition to complying with Circular A-130, to also begin now to apply the key Data Quality principles embodied in recently-enacted § 515(a) of the FY 2001 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 106-554). That Act establishes statutory requirements that OMB issue Data Quality guidelines and that Federal agencies issue conforming guidelines. EPA will be better prepared to comply with those forthcoming OMB guidelines, if EPA begins now to assure that all of its information products adhere to § 515(a)’s statutory purpose of "ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information" disseminated by Federal agencies.