Romney Botched Auto Exhaust Testing Program

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Romney Botched Auto Exhaust Testing Program

Tried to Cook the Books and Silence Whistleblower While Shielding Contractor

Boston — When Mitt Romney was Governor of Massachusetts, the emissions tests administered on motor vehicles could not tell the difference between cars belching high levels of pollution and those running cleanly.  Once testing mistakes were documented, rather than fix the program the Romney administration made it worse by papering over problems and retaliating against the specialist who revealed the defects, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The testing program was inaugurated under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) directives that Massachusetts cut its high levels of carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide in the air.  Rather than using tests recommended by EPA, Massachusetts designed its own system relying on private testing facilities that emphasized short turn-around time for customers (who had to pay for testing).

Problems with the Massachusetts tests soon became evident.  Internal emails indicated that more than half of the cars that failed the Massachusetts emissions test actually passed a similar test sanctioned by EPA and used in most states.  Similarly, the Massachusetts test also passed vehicles that emit more than the federally-approved level of pollutants.  The state Inspector General’s Office found similar results.

Despite these alarm bells, the Romney-led Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) continued to use the faulty test.  Instead of fixing problems, Romney’s DEP decided to obscure the defects:

  • DEP officials attempted to manipulate the data.  The contractor told DEP that they had “made some adjustments” to their numbers which would “cut the failure rate by 50 percent,” although only on paper and not in reality, according to emails obtained by PEER;
  • DEP suspended one top manager and transferred another, but did not change the contractor; and
  • The PhD statistician inside DEP who discovered the testing problems was stripped of his duties and reduced to photocopying, stuffing envelopes and doing data entry.  PEER filed a successful whistleblower complaint on his behalf which secured him a transfer to another program.

“Ensuring accurate auto emissions tests simply requires competence and integrity – both of which were in short supply during this period in state government,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, an attorney and scientist formerly with EPA, noting that Romney shunned a requested pledge of non-retaliation against DEP employees who come forward with information about the test flaws and subsequent agency cover-up.  “This fiasco revealed Mitt Romney’s basic management philosophy which, instead of admitting problems and confronting them head-on, emphasized appearance over reality.”

The flawed emissions testing program was not fixed during Romney’s term but in the ensuing years the flaws have become moot.  Under federal law, all 1996 and newer cars and light trucks are required to have on-board diagnostic (OBD) computers which monitor the operation of the engine and transmission.  Inspection and maintenance programs now incorporate OBD readings automatically to sense malfunctioning emissions control components so they can be fixed before causing increased emissions.

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