Emails show collusion against ethanol

By Susanne Retka Schill | November 07, 2016

The Scoop Blog -- No, this is not about the email controversies surrounding the election. This one’s about the U.S. EPA and a Freedom of Information Act request that uncovered emails providing evidence of collusion between EPA and the oil industry to make sure ethanol looks bad.

Many in the industry are familiar with Steve VanderGriend’s work in identifying the problem with the test fuels used in EPA emissions testing. Steve looked into it because the results contradicted what he knew to be true about ethanol and emissions. And what he found is that the higher ethanol blend test fuels were spiked and the increased emissions blamed on ethanol, when they were caused by the toxic additives. It is well known that ethanol reduces NOX and PM but the EPAct study found the opposite. In 2014, EPA issued MOVES2014, a model for emissions modeling that states must use for writing their regs. The emissions factors used in the MOVES model were based on an earlier EPAct study.

The Urban Air Initiative has worked at laying out the case that EPA’s EPAct study was deliberately designed to show ethanol in a bad light, and the MOVES model must be corrected. Recently, UAI held a conference call where the UAI attorneys laid out what they found.

It took some time, explained Adam Gustafson, attorney with Boyden Gray Associates. EPA initially produced only three documents in response to the UAI’s Freedom of Information Act request, so the attorneys filed suit and the court required EPA to supply thousands more. The lawyers are going back to the court to require EPA broaden the search criteria to get more documents, and to remove the redactions to what already has been produced.

James Conde is the lawyer at Boyden Gray who drew the straw to review the 4,000 documents, many of which were emails to oil industry consultants and members of the Coordinating Research Council. In the UAI conference call, Conde quoted documents, one that was soliciting funds from oil industry contacts to run the study, saying in the solicitation that the study would give beneficial results for policy discussions and that they “expected bad results for ethanol.” He quoted segments of other emails where EPA said tests were being changed “to emphasize ethanol’s effects.”

The UAI provided a 20-page memo from the attorneys laying out the evidence of collusion. The memo shows correspondence indicating the oil industry influenced the EPAct study’s design from the beginning. When a DOE request to include higher ethanol blends was attached to DOE funding, there’s a trail of emails showing the request for higher ethanol content prompted more oil industry intervention. The EPA redesigned the fuel matrix to address the oil industry’s concerns and delegated the design of the EPAct study to an oil industry consultant. The attorneys also found evidence that EPA abandoned test results and test fuels that challenged its prior assumptions about ethanol’s emissions effects. “Among other strategies, EPA considered adding test fuels with more matched parameters to generate the desired anti-ethanol results,” the brief says.

UAI is trying to make hay with the FOIA document revelations. Inside the EPA, a subscription-based service that follows EPA news, was contacted and they did a rather lengthy piece on the latest evidence. Inside the EPA didn’t get a response to requests from comments from EPA and the American Petroleum institute on the latest charges, but referred to its November 2014 stories where API vigorously denied undue oil industry influence.

UAI and its attorneys are pursuing legal action. In the first round filed in Kansas, the judges ruled the petitioners did not have standing as they hadn’t shown injury. Gustafson said they intend to file suit again, perhaps in a different state. They also are laying a case for a second suit, saying “EPA’s secret consultation with a group of oil company employees about the test fuel parameters violated the requirement of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy that such committees be balanced, that they be publicly announced and that their meetings be open to the public.”  The law firm is also using the FOIA documents in preparing to file a request for correction of information on the MOVES model, which will go into great detail on the scientific defects in MOVES, Gustafson said. 

Legal actions and agency requests are slow moving. They could be moved along if there were a public outcry, but capturing the public attention for such a technical subject isn’t easy. UAI is putting together information, explaining in plain English what the emails revealed about the collusion to cook the results of the emissions testing by creating test fuels designed to make ethanol look bad. Industry supporters need to look for that information and pass it along.

There’s a long history of this sort of collusion between Big Oil and government agencies. The secret history of lead will be the subject of a future blog.