February 22 2013
Potential EPA Nominee Must Clean Up Data Mess First
Gina McCarthy is likely to be President Obama’s pick to head up the Environmental Protection Agency, replacing outgoing head Lisa Jackson.
But McCarthy, who is currently Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, may be busy in the immediate future doing something besides measuring for new curtains in Lisa Jackson’s old office.
A report from the EPA’s Inspector General addressed to McCarthy and released this week is highly critical of data reporting in McCarthy's office.
McCarthy has sixty days to respond to the report.
The Inspector General said in the report that the the EPA is using flawed, limited, and unreliable drilling pollution data to regulate oil and gas. According to the Associated Press, the flawed data could “obscure human health risks, generate, misinformed regulations on the industry, and incorrect or ineffective ways to reduce pollution.”
The report said, “About half of EPA’s Web Factor and Information Retrieval System oil and gas production emission factors are rated below average or unrated because they are based on insufficient or low quality data.” The Inspector General's office explains, "With limited data, human health risks are uncertain, states may design incorrect or ineffective emission control strategies, and EPA's decisions about regulating industry may be misinformed."
As one can imagine, inaccurate data can distort perceptions of oil and gas’ environmental impacts and lead to regulations that smother economic growth, while failing to protect the environment.
The findings in the report leave open the possibility that energy producers have been hampered because of bad information. Such actions can have widespread economic effects, since oil and gas production have been high in recent years, despite an economy that is otherwise sluggish. Natural gas, which is booming thanks to new technology and the growth of hydraulic fracturing wells, has provided affordable, clean energy and created new jobs. Yet fracking has come under the scrutiny of the EPA. The report raises the question of whether the agency has good data on fracking.
According to the Associated Press, industries have complained that the EPA’s estimates are misinformed and harmful to production: “The oil and gas industry has said the EPA has overestimated emissions of methane and argued that they already were working to reduce pollution, without the agency's intervention.”
The report raises a few important questions: As Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, is Gina McCarthy responsible for the quality of data her office relies upon to regulate oil and gas companies? Is McCarthy qualified to lead the EPA given the fact that her department has used sloppy data to oversee these industries? Most importantly, what would a McCarthy-led EPA mean for future energy production in the U.S.?