US Senator Mike Rounds’ Weekly Column: The EPA’s Unfair ‘Sue and Settle’ Tactics

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By Senator Mike Rounds

Too often, rather than writing and implementing regulations in an open and transparent process, environmental regulations are enacted as a result of citizen suits prompted by environmental activists. This practice is commonly known as “sue-and-settle.” I recently chaired a Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee hearing to examine the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) sue-and-settle tactics and the impact they have on our economy and local governments.

Both the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act contain clauses that allow citizens to file citizen suits against a regulatory agency to reassure the agency’s compliance with federal statutes. Often, these citizen suits are being used to perpetuate this sue-and-settle process, which overwhelms regulatory agencies and results in settlement agreements and consent decrees requiring agencies to promulgate major regulations within an arbitrarily imposed timeline.

It is worrisome that these agreements are often negotiated behind closed doors, with no transparency and little input from the public before a final rule is issued. The parties responsible for implementing the rules, such as states and local governments, are nearly completely cut out of the process. They are not even consulted about the practicalities of the settlement agreement. Even more alarming, an EPW Committee report recently released found evidence of the Obama Administration colluding with environmental groups to advance these cases. This unfair process allows the administration to advance its own policy agenda while circumventing Congress and the entire legislative process.

As a result, sue-and settle techniques are creating expensive, burdensome regulations that cost taxpayers billions of dollars, stifle economic growth and limit job creation. What’s worse is that these rules are being made behind closed doors by unelected bureaucrats. The American people have no voice in the process. A recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that the EPA reconsideration of the 2008 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards could cost up to $90 billion annually, making it the most expensive regulation in history.

Since October 2014, there have been 88 sue-and-settle cases, 79 of which were launched by environmental groups. This squeezes out the voice of average Americans who deserve a say in the regulations under which we all must live.  I believe our government works best when the public is involved in the decisions that affect their daily lives and agencies work transparently and in good faith. Sue-and-settle practices undermine this concept.

As chairman of the EPW Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight, I take seriously my job to hold the EPA and other agencies accountable to the American people. I will continue working to stop the unfair sue-and-settle tactics used by the administration to circumvent Congress and the American people in order to promote their agendas.


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