Researchers who boosted EPA climate change rules cooperated with govt - report

Reuters/Whitney Curtis
Researchers connected with a study that trumpeted the life-saving abilities of US climate change rules reportedly accepted about $45 million in grants from the Environmental Protection Agency and coordinated with EPA staff to craft the study.

A report by Steve Milloy ‒ a former coal company executive and noted climate change denier ‒ and published by Breitbart.com claims that Harvard University and Syracuse University researchers distorted their connections to the US EPA once their study was published by the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Climate Change in early May.

The study said that the Obama administration's developing prohibitions on carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants ‒ which aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 ‒ would save an estimated average of 3,500 lives a year. The study also predicted that the rules, known as the "Clean Power Plan," would lower hospitalizations by 1,000 per year and heart attacks by 220 annually.

The researchers ‒ led by top author Charles Driscoll, an environmental engineering professor at Syracuse ‒ had previously received some $45 million in grant money from the EPA for various projects, Milloy reported. Yet the research team had claimed independence, stating "the authors declare no competing financial interests."

"Right… the $45 million these researchers have been paid by EPA over the yearsplus the prospect of more moneyhad no influence over them," Milloy wrote in May.

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Furthermore, Milloy filed a Freedom of Information Act request to access any communications between the study's authors and the EPA. The request yielded 99 pages of emails, he wrote.

In July of 2014, the research team contacted staff of the EPA's Clean Power Plan cost-benefit analysis to get their input on the study. In the same month, Driscoll contacted an EPA staff member regarding "considerable interest" in their study from outside "groups." In November, a researcher emailed about further coordination.

“We would like to follow back up with you by phone to discuss possible next steps in this analysis and what role you might be able to play,” wrote Harvard’s Kathy Lambert.

Upon release of the study last month, the researchers insisted they conducted their analysis separate from the government. Driscoll, for example, emphasized to the Buffalo News that the academics had “no dog in this fight.”

Study co-author Jonathan Buonocore of Harvard told the US World and News Report that the EPA did not participate in the study or interact with the authors.

The EPA subsequently touted the study upon its release.

“Not only would the Clean Power Plan take important steps to protect our climate by reducing carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest emitters – this new study also supports EPA’s findings that reducing carbon pollution will result in significant health benefits,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in a statement.

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The Clean Power Plan ‒ the Obama administration's cornerstone policy for tackling climate change ‒ would demand states meet various emission targets by enacting energy-efficiency initiatives and installing clean-burning natural gas and renewable systems to replace outdated fossil-fuel plants. The proposal has received fierce pushback from the coal and oil industries.

A recent federal report by the the nonpartisan Energy Information Administration on the plan's attributes found that it would only "modestly" reduce greenhouse gas emissions from polluters while initialing raising then potentially lowering consumer electricity rates.

"The CO2 emissions are projected to change only modestly from 2013 through 2040," the report said.

A study by the private consulting firm Industrial Economics and the Interindustry Economic Research Fund at the University of Maryland found that the Clean Power Plan's efficiency programs and lowered electricity bills could add about 273,000 jobs over the next 26 years.