The Obama administration cut corners before concluding that climate-change pollution can endanger human health, a key finding underpinning costly new regulations, an internal government watchdog said Wednesday.
Regulators and the White House disagreed with the finding, and the report itself did not question the science behind the administration's conclusions.
Still, the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general is sure to encourage industry lawyers, global warming doubters in Congress and Republicans taking aim at the agency for what they view as an onslaught of job-killing environmental regulations.
The report said EPA should have followed a more extensive review process for a technical paper supporting its determination that greenhouse gases pose dangers to human health and welfare, a finding that ultimately compelled it to issue controversial and expensive regulations to control greenhouse gases for the first time.
"While it may be debatable what impact, if any, this had on EPA's finding, it is clear that EPA did not follow all the required steps," Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins, Jr. said in a statement Wednesday.
The EPA and White House said the greenhouse gas document did not require more independent scrutiny because the scientific evidence it was based on already had been thoroughly reviewed. The agency did have the document vetted by 12 experts, although one of those worked for EPA.
The greenhouse gas decision -- which marked a reversal from the Bush administration -- was announced in December 2009, a week before President Obama headed to international negotiations in Denmark on a new treaty to curb global warming. At the time, progress was stalled in Congress on a new law to reduce emissions in the United States.
Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who requested the investigation and one of Congress' most vocal climate skeptics, said Wednesday the report confirmed that "the very foundation of President Obama's job-destroying agenda was rushed, biased and flawed."
Environmentalists, meanwhile, said the inspector general was nitpicking at the public's expense. The investigation cost nearly $300,000.
"The process matters, but the science matters more," said Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.