EPA sought oil industry help on pollution study — documents

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 8, 2016

U.S. EPA sought financial and other help from an organization tied to the oil industry to study pollution from ethanol and other fuels, according to documents obtained by a group pushing for lower fuel emissions.

EPA officials in 2006 sought guidance from the Coordinating Research Council (CRC) — which is funded mainly by the American Petroleum Institute and major auto companies — for a study that examined the effects of various fuel mixes, the documents show.

The Urban Air Initiative obtained more than 4,000 documents through the federal Freedom of Information Act. The group, a nonprofit that works to reduce vehicle emissions and promote ethanol in gasoline, said the documents illustrate close ties between EPA and the oil industry as the agency examined the potential benefits and downsides of biofuels that the industry didn’t necessarily support.

“In sum, the email records collected by Urban Air Initiative paint a very grim picture of EPA’s partnership with the oil industry,” said a consulting group, Boyden Gray & Associates, which reviewed the documents for the Urban Air Initiative, in a Nov. 2 memo to the group.

Among other details, an EPA briefing paper for a presentation to CRC board members in September 2006 shows that officials planned a financial pitch, detailing flat funding expected from Congress and proposing that the CRC would “be the central mechanism for pooling money and coordinating work.”

The briefing paper from Sept. 28, 2006, shows that the agency meant to coordinate with pro-ethanol and -biofuel groups, as well, including the Renewable Fuels Association and National Biodiesel Board.

But the paper suggests the oil-connected group would play the dominant role.

“EPA would like to have higher level discussions with member companies and/or trade associations,” says the paper, which bears the names of John Koupal and Rick Rykowski of the Assessment and Standards Division of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality.

Although some of the documents are 10 years old, the group said they show that the agency’s work with oil companies laid the groundwork for policies that would follow, including shaping the study in a way to show results less favorable to ethanol.

In addition to guiding EPA officials on which fuels to test, the CRC purchased test vehicles free of cost to provide for the study when EPA ran short on funds, according to the documents.

An EPA spokeswoman had no immediate comment today. The executive director of the CRC, Brent Bailey, didn’t respond to a message today seeking comment.

The CRC is a nonprofit organization that directs studies on the interaction between automotive and other equipment and petroleum-based fuels. It doesn’t have research facilities of its own, and it isn’t involved in government regulation or product development, according to its website.

At issue is a study under the Energy Policy Act, which the agency cited in 2014 as part of new computer model simulating fuel emissions. The agency encouraged states to use the model, called the Motor Vehicle Emission Simulator, in adopting pollution control plans as part of the Clean Air Act (Greenwire, Aug. 20, 2015).

Suspecting overly close ties between the agency and oil companies, the Urban Air Initiative and Energy Future Coalition sued EPA to force release of documents they had requested under the Freedom of Information Act.