WASHINGTON (CN) - EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Monday that the agency would begin pushing back against lawsuits that target it by ending “sue-and-settle” practices.
According to Pruitt’s memo -- addressed to the agency’s assistant and regional administrators and its Office of General Counsel -- the EPA’s history of resolving “litigation through consent decrees and settlement agreements that appear to be the result of collusion with outside groups” fundamentally undermines the principles of government.
The tactic, which Pruitt described as "sue-and-settle," is one in which the agency and a party that have filed a legal challenge agree “on principle on the terms of a consent decree or settlement before the public has the opportunity to review the terms of the agreement.”
In the past and “behind closed doors, EPA and the outside groups agreed that EPA would take an action with a certain end in mind, relinquishing some of its discretion over the agency’s priorities and duties and handing them over to special interests and the courts,” Pruitt wrote.
The exclusion of comment and stakeholder input “even reduced Congress’s ability to influence policy,” in Pruitt’s estimation.
“The days of this regulation through litigation are terminated,” he added.
Under the new policy, the EPA will begin publishing petitions that target the agency and list information on states and other regulated bodies privy to settlements that affect them. The proposed agreements will also be published and open to public comment for 30 days.
Attorneys fees will also no longer be paid for by the EPA and Pruitt also vowed to slow down the agency’s rulemaking process.
“An agency can also use consent decrees and settlement agreements as [a run around] certain procedural protections of the rulemaking process,” he wrote. “Even when an agency attempts to comply with these procedural safeguards, the agency typically agrees to an expedited rulemaking process that can inhibit meaningful public participation.”
The rush to acquiesce to “outside groups” or “special interests” results in technical errors, insufficient assessments and the EPA’s inability to meaningfully review “all the evidence submitted to the agency” or issue full revisions,” he said.
Pruitt, who has openly expressed his support of Federalism in the past, or the philosophy which supports stark separation between the central power’s authorities – the federal government – and its constituents – the states; said the legal strategy employed over the years, ran afoul of the Founding Fathers’ intentions.
“The founders of our nation did not envision such an imbalance of power among the federal branches of government,” he opined.
John Walke, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean air program, said the move by Pruitt was only a new way to open the door to polluters who want to take advantage of the rollback.
“Pruitt’s doing nothing more than posturing about a non-existent problem and political fiction,” Walke said. "His targeting of legal settlements, especially where EPA has no defense to breaking the law, will just allow violations to persist, along with harm to Americans.
“The irony is that polluters don’t even have to sue Pruitt to get what they want," Walke continued. "They just want to pick up the phone and ask. Make no mistake, the unspoken Trump EPA agenda is to allow more corporations to ignore the law and prolong EPA breaking the law; both will lead to dirtier air, dirtier water and sicker people.”
The EPA did not immediately return request for comment.
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