EPA backs off on wage garnishment rule

The Environmental Protection Agency is rescinding final regulations allowing the agency to garnish wages of those it says are delinquent on debts.

But the agency remains intent moving forward with the proposal via a more deliberative process, an agency official told The Hill Wednesday.

A notice to be published in Thursday’s Federal Register formally withdraws the rule, issued earlier in the month.

“In the direct final rule, EPA stated that if adverse comments were received by August 1, 2014, the direct final rule would be withdrawn and not take effect,” according to the terse notice. “EPA received adverse comments on that direct final rule.”

Instead, the EPA will proceed with a draft rule, which remains open for public comment, spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said.

The feedback will be considered before the agency issues another final regulation. Johnson said the EPA is also in the process of extending the public comment period until September 2.

The rule spurred outrage among conservative groups and lawmakers, who decried the measure as an unwarranted government intrusion into the lives of ordinary individuals.

Congressional Republicans took particular exception to the notion that the agency could garnish a worker’s wages without a court order - and because the agency imposed the measure through a direct, final rule, rather than draft regulations.

An amendment attached to spending legislation advanced this week by the House Appropriations Committee would prohibit the EPA from implementing the rule.
 
The amendment was included over the objections of Democrats, who said the rule had been taken out of context to support a GOP narrative that the agency has run wild with its regulatory power.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), for instance, noted that some 30 other agencies have similar rules on their books. He pointed to EPA’s estimates that the total debt owed to the agency is only $228,000 related to disputes with 14 individuals, primarily former employees of the agency. 


“It’s another one of those talking point memos,” he said. “When you get down to what the guts of what this does, it’s a little silly.”

This story was updtated at 2:18 p.m. with additional information and to clarify that the EPA intends to move forward with the proposal.