PCTC files appeal to EPA’s Office of Information Quality

On April 16, 2014, PCTC filed a Request for Correction (RfC) under the US EPA’s Information Quality Guidelines. EPA’s storm water program used the claims made by several hydrologists who work for the US Geological Survey and employees of the City of Austin, TX, as an example of how to use EPA’s causal analysis guidance (called CADDIS) to determine what might be impairing aquatic systems and also developed a BMP “Fact Sheet” for use by MS4 (Multiple Separate Storm Sewer System) operators. PCTC’s RfC explained in detail why those USGS and Austin studies are scientifically problematic. PCTC pointed out that, in developing its example causal analysis, EPA did not consider available, peer-reviewed science that contradicted the USGS findings. Further, PAHs are not subject to the MS4 permitting process. PCTC’s RfC is posted on EPA’s web site here.

On January 19, 2016, EPA responded (also posted on EPA’s web site, here). One response was that the USGS and City of Austin studies are “of sufficient quality, objectivity and transparency for their intended uses” and, because EPA finds the studies to be sufficient for their intended uses, EPA declines to consider any studies or critiques that indicate otherwise. EPA did not consider the merits of PCTC’s RfC, but just generally asserted that the Agency followed appropriate processes and relied upon sufficiently authoritative sources. EPA made a few small changes to the documents and web pages that were the focus of PCTC’s complaint, but generally dismissed PCTC’s RfC without addressing the substance of any of the issues PCTC had raised.

In its response, EPA said that if PCTC is not satisfied with the Agency’s response, we could file an appeal, known as a Request for Reconsideration (RfR), preferably within 90 days.

PCTC was not only dissatisfied with EPA’s response; it was disappointed that the response lacked substance. So, on April 13, 2016, PCTC filed an RfR. As of this writing, the appeal is not yet posted on EPA’s web site, but can be accessed here. UPDATE: PCTC’s appeal (RfR) is now posted on EPA’s web site, here.

The appeal addresses all the points made in EPA’s Jan. 19 response. To EPA’s finding that the papers it relied on were “of sufficient quality, objectivity, and transparency for their intended uses,” PCTC asks the following questions.

  • Multiple studies of aquatic systems in Austin, TX, have had difficulty finding any impairment of biota related to any introduced factor, and studies by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) have explicitly ruled out any impairment associated with PAHs or parking lots located near the water body known as Barton Springs Pool. How, then, can EPA find studies that did not find any impairment, but contend that there must be some, if only the right data were available (the City of Austin sponsored study), to be “of sufficient quality” to be used as an example of causal analysis? EPA must not have looked into how the USGS reached its conclusions, or, as documented here, the Agency could not have found the studies to be of “sufficient objectivity.” And EPA must not have looked into the ordeal PCTC continues to experience trying to obtain data from the USGS (see the latest posts on the FOIA lawsuit), or the Agency could not have found the studies to be of “sufficient transparency.”
  • PCTC is not aware that PAHs or any coal tar-based materials are subject to MS4 permitting. How then can a BMP related to materials that are not subject to MS4 permits be of relevance, much less be fit for purpose?

PCTC’s appeal (RfR) also included an “allegation of a loss of scientific integrity,” to draw the attention of EPA’s Scientific Integrity Officer to the issue.

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