PRUITT TAKES ON ‘SUE AND SETTLE’ LITIGATION

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt is cracking down on settlements with environmental groups.

Pruitt rolled out a new policy Monday meant to add transparency and stakeholder input in the settlement process.

He accused the Obama administration of using settlements on regulatory matters to collude with environmentalists and obligate the agency to write rules, thus thwarting the usual regulatory process.

“The days of regulation through litigation are over,” Pruitt said in a statement.

“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.

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