In a scathing report, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) has blown the whistle on the oft-used, controversial “sue-and-settle” tactic used to design environmental regulations. EPW cites the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan as the “quintessential example.”

Sue-and-settle describes the “legal collusion” that has occurred between federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and well-heeled environmental groups. It typically begins with agencies being sued by environmentalists for failing to meet regulatory deadlines and then agreeing to settle the disputes out-of-court. These settlements, which achieve the environmentalists’ goals and timeline, are written behind closed doors with little or no input from affected parties.

{mosads}Several environmental regulations have resulted from sue-and-settle agreements, including prohibitions on public-land drilling and compliance with costly and questionable federal rules forced on utilities and states. As the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) told a congressional panel on Aug. 4, at least 88 such agreements have been forged during the Obama Administration, 79 of which involved suits from environmental groups.

Many settlements, pushed by groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Defense Fund, are moving the United States away from natural gas, coal, and oil. “The sue-and-settle model takes policy making away from the public and puts it into the hands of one special interest driving an agenda to ultimately prevent the use of fossil fuels,” WEA testified.

Such is the case with the Clean Power Plan, which sets state-specific carbon-emission reduction guidelines to address climate change. According to the EPW Committee’s report, EPA officials and the NRDC shared information through private email accounts, held an informal meeting at a Starbucks in Washington, and even discussed the words that would be used to explain the plan to the public.

With research showing “only 7 percent of people surveyed said climate legislation was important to counter global warming and only 6 percent said it was needed to protect the environment,” the EPA and NRDC agreed that the carbon-emission requirements would have to be sold on public health grounds, however stretched.

To that end, the Clean Power Plan asserts that carbon-dioxide reductions will result in “90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children” and prevent “300,000 missed work and school days.” Skeptical lawmakers have accused EPA of fronting “secret science.” Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control reports no one knows what causes asthma, no one knows how to cure it, and asthma attacks are triggered by a wide variety of stimuli.

Who pays for these phantom health benefits? Everyone who depends on fossil fuels for heat and light.

Unless coal companies and the states are successful in stopping the under-handed carbon-emission rules (at least 15 states are challenging the plan), electricity costs will, as Obama once admitted, “necessarily skyrocket” as coal-burning power plants are phased out. And more coal miners will suffer the fate of the workers at giant Alpha Natural Resources, which became the fourth coal company to file bankruptcy in the past 15 months.

Furthermore, there’s no assurance that the carbon-emission rules will have any environmental impact, especially since China and Japan are building coal-fired power plants as fast as they can. Furthermore, as stated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a letter to all 50 governors, “the EPA admits that the ‘climate’ benefits of the CPP [Clean Power Plan] cannot be quantified and has refused to estimate the impact it would have on global temperature or sea levels.”

But one thing is certain: The federal bureaucracy has aligned itself with interest groups, rather than working for the benefit of the citizens. It is spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars on marginal issues like climate change rather than improving national security and the economy. And it is promulgating misguided regulations—21,000 under the Obama administration so far—when many people simply want the government to get out of the way.

The U.S. Congress must stop the sue-and-settle ruse and challenge the cozy relationship between federal agencies and politically motivated environmental groups. No one, including the planet, is being well served.

Bradley is CEO of the Institute for Energy Research and the author of several books on energy history and public policy.

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