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 McCarthy, the senators, led by Sen. David Vitter (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.

ADVERTISEMENT
“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 Enzi and John Barrasso. “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.