GOP senators slam EPA on wage garnishment

Three Republican senators attacked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Thursday for a proposal that they said would allow the agency to garnish individuals’ wages.

In a letter to EPA head Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthySenators question whether EPA security contract is conflict of interest Overnight Energy: Dems ask Pruitt to justify first-class travel | Obama EPA chief says reg rollback won't stand | Ex-adviser expects Trump to eventually rejoin Paris accord Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand MORE, the senators, led by Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterTrump nominates wife of ex-Louisiana senator to be federal judge Where is due process in all the sexual harassment allegations? Not the Senate's job to second-guess Alabama voters MORE (R-La.), called the proposal an unwarranted overreach into citizens’ lives. The EPA would be able to garnish wages without a court order and unilaterally decide whether people could argue against the garnishments, they said.

“While we recognize the government's legitimate interest in efficiently and effectively pursuing delinquent debt, EPA's new wage garnishment procedures provide an agency prone to regulatory abuses with even more power over Americans,” Vitter wrote, along with Wyoming Sens. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziA failure to protect students and taxpayers Corker: Why can the Pentagon 'turn entire countries into craters' but not audit itself? Sales tax battle moves to the Supreme Court MORE and John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSenators target 'gag clauses' that hide potential savings on prescriptions USPTO needs to be forced to do its job and reject bad patents Senate Dems propose tax cut rollback to pay for infrastructure MORE. “Individuals who face threats of ruinous fines from the agency may now have to think twice before challenging EPA over its regulatory jurisdiction.”

Under the rule proposed last week, the EPA would be allowed to garnish up to 15 percent of the “disposable pay” of anybody with non-tax debt to the agency, such as fines for violating regulations. Thanks to the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, the agency does not need to obtain court permission before garnishing.

The EPA defended the rule, saying it complies with the 1996 law.

“EPA is complying with existing laws by adopting hearing procedures that ensure debtors receive a hearing in order to provide due process,” spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said. “Administrative wage garnishment would apply only after EPA attempts to collect delinquent debts and after [the Treasury Department] attempts to collect delinquent debts through other means.”

The garnishment process requires that the agency give advanced notice before any action and give an opportunity for the debtor to review it, contest it or negotiate a repayment agreement, Johnson said.

The EPA issued its proposal as a “direct final rule.” If no one objects to the proposal, it will become final, but if the agency receives negative comments, it will respond to them and finalize the rule in a standard rule-making process.