Chamber: Greens using ‘sue and settle’ to coerce EPA

The business group decried the “sue and settle” tactic, which they said occurs when a group files a lawsuit against a federal agency for failing to meet a regulatory deadline or requirement.

Panelists at an event unveiling the report said the lawsuits result in settlements behind close doors — known as consent decrees — that “reprograms the priorities” of federal agencies, according to Bill Kovacs, the senior vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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The Chamber is rallying behind legislation from Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) to crack down on the lawsuits, which critics say circumvent the rulemaking process. 

The study from the Chamber focused primarily on the Environmental Protection Agency, which it said has seen the most economically significant regulations enacted under the sue and settle method.

During the Obama administration, there have been the most successful challenges to the Clean Air Act since the Clinton presidency, according to the report. Sixty “sue and settle” cases have been administered for the Clean Air Act alone since 2009, the study found.

From 2009 to 2012, there were approximately 71 total lawsuits, or intents to sue, resulting in more than 100 new rules, it said. Because agencies are not required to report when they receive a lawsuit threat – or when they reach a settlement – the Chamber study says, “we do not know if the cases… is a truly complete list of recent sue and settle cases.”

Public advocacy groups argue ending the practice would simply “stack the deck in favor of more corporate litigation.”

“By advocating for ‘regulatory reform’ legislation, the Chamber wants to make it easier to legally challenge and overturn regulations they and their big business allies oppose,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate at the D.C.-based Public Citizen.

The Chamber’s study identified the Sierra Club as responsible for 34 of the 71 lawsuits against the EPA, with WildEarth Guardians coming in second with 20 suits.

Several of the cases examined in the paper include using sue and settle to designate certain species as threatened on the Endangered Species Act and placing certain species on the list.

In fiscal year 2011, Congress appropriated $20.9 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for “endangered species listing and critical habitat designation.” That year, the Chamber cites, the agency spent $15.8 million in response to court orders or settlement agreements.