EPA to restrict settlements with environmentalists

EPA to restrict settlements with environmentalists
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The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pledging to crack down on settlements with environmental groups that sue the EPA.

“The days of regulation through litigation are over,” EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittCourt sets in motion EPA ban on pesticide linked to developmental issues Scientific integrity, or more hot air? OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden proposes billions for electric vehicles, building retrofitting| EPA chief to replace Trump appointees on science advisory panels | Kerry to travel to UAE, India to discuss climate change MORE said in a statement on Monday announcing a new policy that seeks to increase transparency in the process through which the agency settles regulatory lawsuits with environmentalists and other outside groups.


“We will no longer go behind closed doors and use consent decrees and settlement agreements to resolve lawsuits filed against the agency by special interest groups where doing so would circumvent the regulatory process set forth by Congress,” Pruitt said, adding that he is also cracking down on attorneys’ fees paid to litigants.

Under Pruitt’s new directive, the agency will post all lawsuits online, reach out to affected states and industries and seek their input on any potential settlements.

The EPA is pledging to avoid settlements that would make for a rushed regulatory process, or that obligate the agency to take actions that the federal courts do not have the authority to force.

Any potential settlements would also be posted online and the EPA will review any related comments, Pruitt’s directive said.

Some of the provisions in the new policy appear to be duplicative. For example, federal agencies were already required to post proposed settlements before they are made final under the Clean Air Act, and to accept public input about them.

A 2014 Government Accountability Office report on settlements found that they only had a "limited" impact on agency regulations, and even then, it was only on the timing of rules.

Republicans and industry had accused the Obama-era EPA of using lawsuits and their settlements to force regulations or other policies without following the usual regulatory process.

The Heritage Foundation, which often criticized the Obama EPA’s actions, applauded the new policy.

“The EPA should be commended for going after the egregious sue and settle practice,” Daren Bakst, a research fellow at the conservative group, said in a statement.

“Federal regulation is supposed to be developed in an open manner with public participation. Instead though, agencies such as the EPA have been engaging in closed-door deal-making with special interests, primarily environmental pressure groups,” he said.

Environmentalists characterized Pruitt’s new policy as an attack on enforcement of environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

“Pruitt’s doing nothing more than posturing about a non-existent problem and political fiction,” said John Walke, director of the clean air and climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“His targeting of legal settlements, especially where EPA has no defense to breaking the law, will just allow violations to persist, along with harms to Americans.”

In the previous administration, agencies like EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service settled lawsuits from outside groups that wanted the administration to abide by a regulatory deadline that it had missed, or to respond to a regulatory petition.

The agreements usually forced the agencies to decide whether to write policies.

--This report was updated at 1:01 p.m.