White House officials concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) significantly overstated the economic benefits of a proposed rule cutting formaldehyde emissions, largely because the agency persisted in relying on scientific claims that federal peer reviewers deemed incredible.

“The EPA has been gaming the system by grossly exaggerating economic benefits to justify its costly regulations,” Sen. David Vitter, R-La., the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in pointing out the White House review on Thursday. “This recent review by an office within the Obama White House goes to show that even his Administration cannot support EPA’s practice. It’s not just a minor exaggeration: the EPA’s lowest range of benefits is ten times greater than it should be.”

EPA officials predicted last year that a rule lowering formaldehyde emissions — which have a number of causes, including some materials common in the construction industry — would annually generate at least $91 million and perhaps as much as $278 million. The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) lowered expectations, in May, countering that the policy would only generate $9-$48 million each year.

“When the rule went to OIRA, EPA estimated substantial benefits from reduced asthma cases in children and reduced infertility in adult women,” the Center for Progressive Reform’s Lisa Hienzarling explained in June.  “At OIRA, these benefits were demoted from a combined positive effect of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars per year to a simple ‘+B’ – the notation chosen for unquantified benefits.”

In doing so, the White House team sided with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which reported in 2011 that the EPA “overstated” the health risks posed by formaldehyde. “Overall, the committee found that EPA’s draft assessment was not prepared in a logically consistent fashion, lacks clear links to an underlying conceptual framework and does not sufficiently document methods and criteria used to identify evidence for selecting and evaluating studies,” The New York Times quotes the NAS report as saying.

The EPA said at the time it would “examine how best to respond to [NAS] recommendations,” but the White House review suggests the agency failed to keep that pledge.