One of the reasons the Cornwall Alliance supported President Donald Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt, at the time Oklahoma Attorney General, as Administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was that Pruitt “publicly opposed the abuse of the court system by use of ‘sue-and-settle’ to reach sweetheart deals between the EPA and environmental advocacy groups.” That was sweet news to anyone familiar with the way Green advocacy groups had abused the legal system, with full cooperation by the Obama EPA, to force adoption of policies that Congress refused to embody in legislation. (The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee issued a scathing report on “sue-and-settle” in 2015.)
Just as Pruitt fulfilled his promise to withdraw the “Clean Power Plant” rule, he issued today an agency-wide directive to end “sue-and-settle” throughout the EPA. That’s good news to anyone who values the rule of law, representative government, and sensible environmental stewardship.
EPA’s press release quoted him saying,
The days of regulation through litigation are over. 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. Additionally, gone are the days of routinely paying tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to these groups with which we swiftly settle.
The directive sets out to reform the agency’s practice by:
- Publishing any notices of intent to sue the Agency within 15 days of receiving the notice;
- Publishing any complaints or petitions for review in regard to an environmental law, regulation, or rule in which the Agency is a defendant or respondent in federal court within 15 days of receipt;
- Reaching out to and including any states and/or regulated entities affected by potential settlements or consent decrees;
- Publishing a list of consent decrees and settlement agreements that govern Agency actions within 30 days, along with any attorney fees paid, and update it within 15 days of any new consent decree or settlement agreement;
- Expressly forbidding the practice of entering into any consent decrees that exceed the authority of the courts;
- Excluding attorney’s fees and litigation costs when settling with those suing the Agency;
- Providing sufficient time to issue or modify proposed and final rules, take and consider public comment; and
- Publishing any proposed or modified consent decrees and settlements for 30-day public comment, and providing a public hearing on a proposed consent decree or settlement when requested.