EPA’s “Sue/Settle” Strategy Gets Them Sued by 12 States

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Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and the attorneys general of 11 other  states sued the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday, demanding that the  agency turn over documents the states allege will show the agency cooperates  with environmental groups as part of a “sue and settle” legal strategy to  develop regulations.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City, alleges that  binding consent decrees between the EPA and environmental groups that have sued  the agency over the years have led to new rules and regulations for states  without allowing their attorneys general to defend their interests and those of  its businesses and consumers.

“The EPA is picking winners and losers, exhibiting favoritism, at the expense  of due process and transparency,” Pruitt said in a statement. “They are  manipulating our legal system to achieve what they cannot through our  representative democracy. The outcomes of their actions affect every one of us  by sticking states with the bill and unnecessarily raising utility rates by as  much as 20 percent.”

Besides Oklahoma, the attorney generals of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas,  Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming are  parties to the lawsuit.

EPA’s press secretary in Washington, D.C., Alisha Johnson, denied allegations  that the agency cooperates with environmental groups to develop regulations.

“We have no input or control over what parties sue us or what issues they  focus on,” Johnson said.

Pruitt said as many as 40 lawsuits have been filed against EPA over the years  by such environmental groups as Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, WildEarth  Guardians and the Sierra Club that have led to consent decrees, “sometimes on  the same day the lawsuit is filed,” that include terms and conditions that go  beyond statutory guidelines approved by Congress.

“I would look at that very suspect and say: ‘What’s going on?'” Pruitt said.  “The EPA is picking winners and losers. These cases affect Oklahoma’s ability to  do its job.”

Johnson said EPA does not enter into legal settlements that give the agency  new or additional authority.

“An outside entity cannot compel us to take action we were not already  compelled to take by law,” she said.

The states’ lawsuit seeks to enforce federal Freedom of Information Act  guidelines involving the states’ request for letters, emails and any other  correspondence between the EPA and environmental organizations before they sue  the agency. The attorney generals want to analyze the documents to determine the  nature of EPA’s legal strategy concerning environmental groups.

In one instance, the lawsuit says the states made a FOIA request to EPA in  February seeking records about the agency’s negotiations with environmental  groups that led to binding consent decrees concerning state implementation plans  for the EPA’s regional haze guidelines under the Clean Air Act.

Pruitt is challenging regional haze guidelines for Oklahoma in federal court.  Utility officials have said the regulations could cause electricity rates to  rise 13 percent to 20 percent in three years.

“It’s a regulation-through-litigation type of initiative,” Pruitt said. “And  we are not even a party to that litigation. That’s a troublesome  thing.”

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