Minority Report: “EPA’s Playbook,” “Fraud,” and “Secret Science”

About a month ago I had a discussion with Dr. Bob Ferris on this blog, initially concerning the general quality of “government science.” Dr. Ferris is a “real scientist” who is “serious” and currently works for Cascadia Wildlands, an environmental activist group based in Eugene, Oregon. He has a number of publications to his credit and was instrumental in the efforts to reintroduce gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1996, through his position as a biologist with Defenders of Wildlife. Here is a current sample of his work: http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_25387360/wheres-science-fish-and-wildlife-service-must-rewrite

When Dr. Ferris brought up the topic of “best available science,” I responded by providing a link to an Evergreen Magazine interview with Dr. Alan Moghissi, a published and widely recognized expert on the topic. For some reason Dr. Ferris was able to use this link as an opportunity to veer oddly and sharply off-topic and to begin leveling ad hominem attacks on ESIPRI’s website; one of ESIPRI’s founders (and occasional contributor to this blog), Norman MacLeod; Evergreen Magazine; Jim Petersen (Dr. Moghissi’s interviewer and publisher of Evergreen); Dr. Moghissi’s “right wing credentials”; Dave Skinner, a regular contributor to this blog; and the Boards of both ESIPRI and Evergreen Foundation: https://forestpolicypub.com/2014/02/17/of-wolves-and-wilderness/comment-page-1/#comment-38197

The link that seemed to cause Dr. Ferris so much vexation and total disregard for the topic at hand (“best available science”) was to a recent issue of Evergreen Magazine with a picture of Dr. Moghissi on the front cover, the Capitol Building in the background, and featuring the headline: “Fresh Air! Alan Moghissi: Rocking Capitol Hill and the EPA!”: http://www.esipri.org/Library/Evergreen_2012.pdf

Earlier today Karla Davenport, producer of Salem, Oregon’s iSpy Radio show, sent me a copy of this amazing report, EPA’s Playbook Unveiled: A Story of Fraud, Deceit, and Secret Science: http://www.esipri.org/Library/Bolar-Steel_20140319.pdf

This may be the first time I have ever referred to a government report as “amazing” without meaning to be disrespectful. If this is only 50% accurate, it should be made required reading by our public land legislators and their staffs immediately. In my opinion. The report was just released on Wednesday, so has only been available for 72 hours. I have reproduced its Executive Summary here for discussion purposes. I’m curious as to how it is going to be received.


The greatness of our unique nation hinges on the fundamental purpose of the government to serve at the will of the people and to carry out public policy that is in the public interest. When it comes to the executive branch, the Courts have extended deference to agency policy decisions under the theory that our agencies are composed of neutral, non-biased, highly specialized public servants with particular knowledge about policy matters. This report will reveal that within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some officials making critically important policy decisions were not remotely qualified, anything but neutral, and in at least one case — EPA decision making was delegated to a now convicted felon and con artist, John Beale.

John Beale is the character from the bizarre tale of the fake CIA agent who used his perch at the EPA to bilk the American taxpayer out of more than a million dollars. Even Jon Stewart, host of the popular Daily Show, featured Beale’s bizarre tale as “Charlatan’s Web” on his program in December 2013. Before his best friend Robert Brenner hired him to work at EPA, Beale had no legislative or environmental policy experience and wandered between jobs at a small-town law firm, a political campaign, and an apple farm. Yet at the time he was recruited to EPA, Brenner arranged to place him in the highest pay scale for general service employees, a post that typically is earned by those with significant experience.

What most Americans do not know is that Beale and Brenner were not obscure no-name bureaucrats housed in the bowels of the Agency. Through his position as head of the Office of Policy, Analysis, and Review, Brenner built a “fiefdom” that allowed him to insert himself into a number of important policy issues and to influence the direction of the Agency. Beale was one of Brenner’s acolytes — who owed his career and hefty salary to his best friend.

During the Clinton Administration, Beale and Brenner were very powerful members of EPA’s senior leadership team within the Office of Air and Radiation, the office responsible for issuing the most expensive and onerous federal regulations. Beale himself was the lead EPA official for one of the most controversial and far reaching regulations ever issued by the Agency, the 1997 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Ozone and Particulate Matter (PM). These standards marked a turning point for EPA air regulations and set the stage for the exponential growth of the Agency’s power over the American economy. Delegating the NAAQS to Beale was the result of Brenner’s facilitating the confidence of EPA elites, making Beale the gatekeeper for critical information throughout the process.

Beale accomplished this coup based on his charisma and steadfast application of the belief that the ends justify the means. Concerned about this connection, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) staff have learned that the same mind that concocted a myriad of ways to abuse the trust of his EPA supervisors while committing fraud is the same mind that abused the deference afforded to public servants when he led EPA’s effort on the 1997 NAAQS. Brenner was known to have an objective on NAAQS, and would have done whatever was necessary to accomplish his desired outcome. Together, Brenner and Beale implemented a plan, which this report refers to as “EPA’s Playbook.”

The Playbook includes several tools first employed in the 1997 process, including sue-and-settle arrangements with a friendly outside group, manipulation of science, incomplete cost-benefit analysis reviews, heavy-handed management of interagency review processes, and capitalizing on information asymmetry,
reinforced by resistance to transparency. Ultimately, the guiding principal behind the Playbook is the Machiavellian principal that the ends will justify the means. In the case of the 1997 NAAQS, the Playbook started with a sue-and-settle agreement with the American Lung Association, which established a compressed timeline to draft and issue PM standards. This timeline was further compressed when EPA made the unprecedented decision to simultaneously issue new standards for both PM and Ozone. Issuing these standards in tandem and under the pressure of the sue-and-settle deadline, Beale had the mechanism he needed to ignore opposition to the standards — EPA simply did not have the time to consider dissenting opinions.

The techniques of the Playbook were on full display in the “Beale Memo,” a confidential document that was leaked to Congress during the controversy, which revealed how he pressured the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to back off its criticism of the NAAQS and forced them to alter their response to Congress in 1997. EPA also brushed aside objections raised by Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Energy, the White House Council of Economic Advisors, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Academy of Sciences, and EPA’s own scientific advisers — the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee.

These circumstances were compounded by EPA’s “policy call” to regulate PM2.5 for the first time in 1997. PM2.5 are ubiquitous tiny particles, the reduction of which EPA used to support both the PM and Ozone NAAQS. In doing so, the Playbook also addressed Beale’s approach to EPA’s economic analysis: overstate the benefits and underrepresent the costs of federal regulations. This technique has been applied over the years and burdens the American people today, as up to 80% of the benefits associated with all federal regulations are attributed to supposed PM2.5 reductions.

EPA has also manipulated the use of PM2.5 through the NAAQS process as the proffered health effects attributable to PM2.5 have never been independently verified. In the 1997 PM NAAQS, EPA justified the critical standards on only two data sets, the Harvard “Six Cities” and American Cancer Society (ACS II) studies. At the time, the underlying data for the studies were over a decade old and were vulnerable to even the most basic scrutiny. Yet the use of such weak studies reveals another lesson from EPA’s Playbook: shield the underlying data from scrutiny.

Since the 1997 standards were issued, EPA has steadfastly refused to facilitate independent analysis of the studies upon which the benefits claimed were based. While this is alarming in and of itself, this report also reveals that the EPA has continued to rely upon the secret science within the same two studies to justify the vast majority of all Clean Air Act regulations issued to this day. In manipulating the scientific process, Beale effectively closed the door to open scientific enquiry, a practice the Agency has followed ever since. Even after the passage in 1999 of the Shelby Amendment, a legislative response to EPA’s secret science that requires access to federal scientific data, and President Obama’s Executive Orders on Transparency and Data Access, the EPA continues to withhold the underlying data that originally supported Beale’s efforts.
After President Clinton endorsed the 1997 NAAQS and the Agency celebrated their finalization, Beale became immune to scrutiny or the obligation to be productive for the remainder of his time at the Agency. Similarly, the product of his labors have remained intact and have been shielded from any meaningful scrutiny, much the same way Beale was protected by an inner circle of career staff who unwittingly aided in his fraud. Accordingly, it appears that the Agency is content to let the American people pay the price for Beale and EPA’s scientific insularity, a price EPA is still trying to hide almost twenty years later.

After reaching the pinnacle of his career at the Agency in 1997, and facing no accountability thereafter, Beale put matters on cruise control and enjoyed the lavish lifestyle that the highest paid EPA employee could afford, producing virtually no substantive work product thereafter. For Beale’s successes in the 1997 NAAQS process, Beale was idolized as a hero at the Agency. According to current EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, “John Beale walked on water at EPA.”

This unusual culture of idolatry has led EPA officials to blind themselves to Beale’s wrongdoing and caused them to neglect their duty to act as public servants. As such, to this day EPA continues to protect Beale’s work product and the secret science behind the Agency’s NAAQS and PM claims.

34 thoughts on “Minority Report: “EPA’s Playbook,” “Fraud,” and “Secret Science””

  1. Do you really think citing an absurdly-partisan report authored by the right-wing anti-environment Republican minority of the EPW committee is going to convince anyone who’s not already inside the GOP echo chamber? Because it’s not.

  2. Hi Travis: You are right that the report is written in an almost “absurdly-partisan” manner, but I’m only shooting for 50% accuracy in order to be concerned. I apparently don’t have access to your insights on politics, but my hope is that this report will cause some discussion for the need for independent scientific peer review of federal agencies establishing policies and regulations for the management of our natural resources.

    I just wrote a brief review of this report as being written in more of a Huffington Post article style than a typical government report, but the two (assumed) principal authors have their names and contact information clearly listed on the title page. Maybe you should be more interested in their motives. Mine are to encourage thoughtful discussion, and I think their report has the potential to achieve that result.

  3. Bob

    To quote Hillary Clinton “What does it matter now” 🙁

    If there is a great political upheaval in 2014 and 2016 then this, the IRS, Benghazi, Obamacare and other great lies and misdeeds might come to light. But as long as votes can be bought the odds are stacked heavily against turning this ship around.

    As Alexis de Tocqueville said “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

    I sure hope that America wakes up to the impending repeat of the Jim Jones Guyana Tragedy with power drunk politicians standing in for Jim Jones and the swallower’s of false promises standing in for his unquestioning followers. “You can keep your _______” (fill in the blank)

    But does it really matter? I hear Putin has called for a vote next week of the Russians in NJ and Long Island as to whether they want to be annexed. Now we know what a certain politician meant when he said to Putin that he’d have more flexibility in his second term.

    • Hi Gil:

      I guess in the greater scheme of things, nothing probably does matter too much. In this instance, I find the topic interesting and the potential for actual action within the realm of possibility. Which is also interesting, at least to me.

      Do you have any specific thoughts on any of this?


      • Well, I can see that Bob and Gil were up late —
        There is even a problem with “independent peer review.” That was the cloaking device for the latest contretemps over wolf biology/genetics. The core issue is something called an eastern timber wolf. USFWS took the position that any ETW has been long zapped off the map, while the wolf lovers allege the ETW was a western woof/coyote hybrid — or whatever might be convenient to force a determination that the species still exists and must be reintroduced or the planet will spin off its axis.
        So now the entire delisting is hung up over the matter, with angry Congresscritters from wolf havens like the Marianas demanding a re-listing.
        The trouble with the independents is, they might be “independent” because nobody would touch them with a ten foot pole. Or they can be “independent” yet a complete pet of a certain subset of the “nonprofit and therefore prima facie CHARITABLE sector” with absolutely NO agenda. None.

  4. Bob

    Yes, I have very specific thoughts but they are all theological as there is no hope for permanent, actual, positive, long term action coming from mankind. But that is not a statement of hopelessness.

    ‘There is nothing new under the sun’ as Ecc. 1:9 says. Sure we have the IRS here in the US instead of storm troopers in the Ukraine and AR-15’s instead of clubs but mankind’s lust for power and willingness to do whatever it takes to gain and keep power has only increased as more different tools enable those who had no physical power to fight their way to the top can now resort to cyber crime or whatever. So my specific thoughts are that mankind is highly imperfect/sinful no matter how much knowledge it has and the pendulum swings left and then to the right in a seemingly never ending cycle. Mankind seems to have this unquenchable to conquer and glories in beating his chest when he does so. History is filled with examples to back this up. This life on earth is simply the winnowing process in God’s incomprehensible plan to gather those who did their best to please Him into His presence and into eternal joy through all of eternity.

    As in a court of law, I have studied the witness’ and know that extremely reliable witness’ have overwhelmingly documented the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ which for me establishes the existence of the one true God. As a result of that, no matter what happens to my body, I know that I have eternal life as promised by Jesus The Christ. So, I try to put a smile on even when I don’t want to and rejoice in what is good rather than dwell on what is bad, accept my limitations and trust God in whatever He chooses for me. That is the best that I can do and I can even look back and see where he saved me from death many a time and I can look forward to when He calls me home.

    • But what do you think of the points raised in the post? Do you think EPA and ESA should have independent and transparent scientific peer reviews of information used as the basis to regulations and policies?

  5. Bob

    I would not be surprised at all if these points are all true. And, yes, I think that they “should have independent and transparent scientific peer reviews of information used as the basis to regulations and policies”. I also think that the chicken little syndrome and the fear driven urgency should be countered by some waiting period until established science or significant actual observation validates what models based on “possible”, “might”, “could” and etc. tell some people (i.e. the NSO debacle).

    But how can we count on those people and the people who put them in power to be any better than the ones that they are checking up on. There are only so many tax dollars and they are increasingly going to buy votes. What hope is there that funds will be set aside for such truthing? We already have a Gov’t Accounting Office which the people in power can and do ignore without any consequences? We even have jury rigged labor relations boards. Everything is a political fight for supremacy. Even the Supreme Court sometimes rules on the basis of ideology rather than the constitution. What hope is there in mankind? The founding of the US had great promise but we are well on our way to proving the axiom that democracies only have a life cycle of 200-300 years. See the links below.

    That is why freedom is so important to me as opposed to a gov’t cradle to grave house of cards that is going to hurt more people when it falls than if survival of the fittest was allowed to rule. That is why the ignored 10th amendment is so important so that we can have the freedom to move to the state which most closely embodies our individual beliefs subject to the Constitution and the bill of rights (i.e. states can not allow individuals to be enslaved).

    All that we can do is think things out, express our thoughts, and VOTE

    See Also:




    • Gil:

      Or else we could just all THINK!, and then whether we VOTED or not would be a matter of record, rather than an actual commitment to CHANGE. In my opinion, anyways.


      • Bob

        After contemplating my navel for endless hours, I have come to a simple solution which requires no new agencies or boards.

        Cut the courts and lawyers out of the system. Let the EPA investigate all appropriate charges made by anyone against the USFS or BLM or other fed group. Then if the EPA agrees with the charges there are two choices:
        1) If the charged dept. agrees with the science behind the EPA policy/regulations then the charged dept. agrees to comply.
        2) If the charged dept. disagrees with the science behind the EPA policy/regulations then the Gov’t Accountability Office will hear out the scientists/professionals provided by both parties and make a decision based on the best established and validated science and facts available rather than the latest theories/conjecture.

        • Gil:

          Following option B — the department does not agree with the scientific data used by EPA for regulatory purposes — then would GAO hold a transparent (to the American public) peer review process with their hand-picked opponents?

          • Bob – here are some, off the cuff, first thoughts:

            1) The EPA and the charged department would both provide their experts.
            2) The GAO would elicit written opinions and documents from any other interested party.
            3) A series of taped investigatory discussions would be held by the GAO structured and conducted as they deemed appropriate to come to a sound conclusion devoid of emotional or political pressure on volatile subjects.
            4) The GAO would issue a written ruling and document the basis for that ruling.
            5) The tapes would be made available for on-line viewing by anyone.
            6) Dissatisfaction with the ruling can only be dealt with by passing federal legislation to give congressional clarification to any and all related existing laws, bureaucratic rules and administrative policy.

            • In the danger of being politically incorrect by citing Fox News (via Yahoo! News — I don’t watch TV or vote), here is what I think of trusting EPA in your scheme: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/03/25/epa-land-grab-agency-claims-authority-over-more-streams-wetlands/

              The problem, in my eyes, is not to worry about creating additional agencies or committees so much as it is with the land grab being undertaken by a few of the ones we already have. If this strategy is based (even in part) on scientific information, then that data should be peer reviewed — and the review process should be completely transparent because taxpayers are paying for this type of committee room management (“colonialism”). In my opinion.

  6. Bob, alarm bells started ringing when I read your first line, “About a month ago I had a discussion with Dr. Bob Ferris on this blog”. Now I hope you know better.

    • I think it’s always good to add a little extra light on the Dr. Ferris’ of the world. If anything, it really seems to bring out the Vitamin D in them, politically. Notice that he has never come back? I’m blaming too much sunlight.

      • Bob

        I think that I hear where you are coming from but, imho, we have too much analysis paralysis which is detrimental to the national forests and the world environment. A committee comprised of the entire US population making decisions would result in even more gridlock.

        Now for my real thoughts, If I were King:

        All non-human resource related departments would be reorganized as follows. Each department would have total authority to interpret and execute the laws defined by the Congress. If people objected then their only recourse would be to go to congress to change the law.

        1) Dept. of Non Renewable Resources – DNRR –
        a) The EPA would be renamed to the National Manufactured Pollutants Bureau (NMPB) and would be responsible for all inorganic manufacturing pollutants.
        b) Bureau of Mines, Energy Dept. and related would be combined into the National Extracted Inorganic Raw Materials Bureau (NEIRMB).

        2) Dept. of Renewable Resources – DRR –
        – This would include USDA, USFS, BLM, NPS, UFWS and etc. which would be combined by surface use as follows:
        a) Farming Bureau (FB) for lands not managed for integrated ecosystem values.
        b) Forestry, Wildlands and Wildlife Bureau (FWWB)
        c) National Tidal Waters Bureau (NTWB)

        Fewer departments and fewer lawyers with more subject area crosstrained professionals and scientists working together.

        Well that’s my pipe dream. 🙂 🙂 🙂 I’m not holding my breath for any agreement with my opinions.

  7. I’d like to point out that the PDF copy of the 2012 Evergreen Magazine articles includes a picture of the Lolo National Forest and a photo caption which, in part, reads: “This region’s once robust timber industry has struggled mightily under the weight of litigation.”

    Fact: From 2006 until today this part of the Lolo National Forest saw zero timber sale litigation.

    Also, I have to wonder why all these efforts at working together weren’t highlighted in Evergreen Magazine, as they were elsewhere in the media?

    Teaming Up for Community Fire Protection (May 2006)

    Working Together to Keep the DeBorgia Community Safe from Wildfire (May 2007)

    Finally, can I assume that Evergreen Magazine gave full coverage to some of these timber industry facts and economic realities from the greater Lookout Pass region of the Lolo National Forest in past issues? See this article, from the Missoulian’s Sherry Devlin, back in 1994 on “Mineral Co’s Crown Pacific and other timber companies export logs – and jobs – to Asia

    • Hi Matt:

      Your questions are (much) better directed to Jim Petersen, founder and publisher of Evergreen Magazine: Jim Petersen (jim-at-evergreenmagazine.com)

      I’d be interested in the answers to your questions, too, if you could post them here — or maybe even convince Jim to Subscribe and Comment himself.

  8. Anyone really interested in EPA’s use of science should read Sheila Jasanoff’s classic “the Fifth Branch.” On amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Fifth-Branch-Science-Advisers-Policymakers/dp/0674300629/ref=la_B001IZRC6G_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395588925&sr=1-4
    Here’s her bio.

    It does amaze me that so many folks in natural resources aren’t tracking the broader field of science in policy. As I asked someone working on the 2000 planning rule (the science coordinator), “how can you put “use the best science” in regulation when you are not using “the best science” about how science should be developed and used in policy?”

    Gil, thanks for helping with perspective. Not to focus on the next world, but folks who think the end justifies the means (note, I am not saying anyone on this blog does, I am just referring to the concept) are operating from a different perspective about what this earthly life is all about.

    Maybe on this planet, it’s all about softening hearts and not sharpening minds.

  9. On Bob’s specific question of whether there should be transparency in the use of science, I would be interested in hearing EPA’s side of the story, and how they believe they complied with existing disclosure requirements. For a more recent version of the same thing, see the sketchy science used by the FWS to support de-listing wolves, but we know this because they included a peer review. At the risk of agreeing with Gil that there is nothing new under the sun, I am reminded of Julie MacDonald at FWS during the Bush Administration (http://www.ucsusa.org/scientific_integrity/abuses_of_science/political-interference-in.html). It is probably worse when political ‘appointees’ are embedded in the agency itself, which is apparently the case in this EPA story (which has also happened in the Forest Service).

    I agree with the idea that transparency requirements are needed to counteract the temptation for ‘political interference’ in the use of science (which may be encouraged by a deferential standard of judicial review of scientific questions). I’m just not sure what should be added to the public notice and comment procedures already required for ESA actions.

    • Jon

      I know that it hurt terribly but at least we have finally found something that we can agree on. 🙂

      Who knows what meeting of the minds could come from this. 🙂

  10. Well, this thing is going off the rails of whether or not EPA is a cult run by true believers — what the heck is that syndrome called…. But the agency name says it all — environmental PROTECTION agency, not environmental MANAGEMENT.
    As for transparency in science, the nasty old truth is that science IS in fact being corrupted by advocacy. The very branch of conservation biology was spun off specifically to legitimize what is a political belief system with political outcomes. Dominick Della Salla is a classic example, what the heck did he re-name his group before re naming it to GEOs? National Science Policy Center or something? Oh, yeah, the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy. You bet.
    I went Googling, and here’s exactly the problem, a 2004 news story about a “scientist petition” (oh, but these are not political people at all, no sirreeeeee) in support of the roadless initiative signed by — Jane Goodall, E O Wilson, Bob Beschta, Jim Strittholt (CBI) — fronted by Dominick.
    The real problem here is value driven science. The function of science is not to impose value systems upon policy, using an advanced degree to advance a value system. Science is not without a responsibility to the society that makes science possible by providing the fiscal and intellectual resources necessary, all right? What’s the responsibility? Well, science is held in high esteem for one main reason — the application of good science to societal problems has left society as a whole better off.
    Seems like certain “scientists” care little whether their practice improves the human condition. Even worse, there are a fair number who would like their science applied in ways that demonstrably worsen the human condition, and they’re cool with that. Scary.

    • Dave

      I am truly shocked, you have destroyed everything that I ever thought about scientists. 🙂 Are they really human with good scientists, bad scientists and scientists who are good 3 days of the week and bad on the other 4 days except that it switches to 4 and 3 on odd numbered months?

      Lesson of the day, stereotypes and unquestioning attitudes are for lazy people and people willing to ignore the truth or who have no desire to find the truth in order to cover their ulterior motives.

    • An unusually cogent argument, Dave. I had to think (for a month) about, “The very branch of conservation biology was spun off specifically to legitimize what is a political belief system with political outcomes.” Perhaps so, but only in the same way that the science of forestry was developed to legitimize a political belief system with political outcomes (such as the creation of the Forest Service).

      • JohnH

        Do you really believe that forest science is faux science that was concocted to achieve the political goals of a few foresters to create the USFS? Do you believe that the French and German foresters who were the primary starting point for operational forestry were motivated by their desire to create a political impact in the US? Do you give no credence to the more cogent argument that forest science followed from their efforts to do their jobs effectively rather than shoot their management efforts in the foot?

        Can we talk about the specifics for your charges? These comments of yours are the same “lot of CO2 (aka hot air) on this site” generalities that you complained about here. Or better yet, are you willing to cease such useless efforts and talk specifics that can be supported by research? You can’t have it both ways.

        • My intent was not to start a debate about the forestry profession, but to suggest that 100 years from now the view of conservation biology science may be similar to the view of forestry science today.

  11. Dave:

    I’d never heard of NCS until you just caused me to Google it: “Many non-profits are suffering from Noble Cause Syndrome, more commonly known as NCS. Noble Cause Syndrome is when an organization performs a task or service that is so noble that in their mind it no longer matters how well they do the task.”

    The police, however, refer to it as NCC (“Nobel Cause Corruption”): http://www.ethicsinpolicing.com/noble-cause-corruption.asp

    My personal NCS focus is to destroy all acronyms invented after 1988.


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