Last week, federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a directive aimed at reducing “sue-and-settle” lawsuits. For those who like voters to have input in the creation of environmental regulation, this is a great move.
For decades, environmental advocacy groups have exerted outsized influence—and profited financially—from “friendly” lawsuits against the EPA. These lawsuits have been a conduit for activists inside and outside the EPA to get new regulations in place over the protests of state governments, businesses, and consumers that must bear the costs.
Starting about 1970, Congress began writing clauses into certain environmental statutes allowing “any person” to file suit alleging that the EPA had insufficiently enforced the law, whether or not the plaintiff was personally harmed by the violation. These “citizen suit” provisions in environmental legislation opened the courtroom door to environmental organizations, which quickly discovered the money-making potential of these lawsuits.
Some settlements involve a “mitigation project” that often benefits environmental groups, and in addition, the groups often received above-cost reimbursements of attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses. The revenues became so substantial that environmental law attorney Michael Greve referred to citizen suits as “an off-budget entitlement program for the environmental movement.”
Environmental organizations also discovered that citizen suit-based “sue-and-settle” tactics could be used to obtain regulatory changes without legislative action. Green groups could accomplish their goals without Congress and without much worry much about objections raised during the “public comment” period following a consent decree or agreement. By the time public comments are made, it’s pretty much a done deal.
Green groups weren’t the only ones to profit from sue-and-settle. … [Read the rest.]